Calatrava to Build World’s Most Expensive Transportation Hub

WTC © Joe Woolhead

The World Trade Center Complex in Lower Manhattan is slowly progressing, now more than a decade after .  The Memorial was unveiled on the ten-year anniversary of , while the Freedom Tower is well on its way to completion, proudly displaying the spire that was mounted just a few weeks ago.  The site still is – and will be for many years to come – a maddening array of construction equipment, scaffolding and cranes that are working busily at the various components of WTC’s rebuilding.  Yet while all this development is moving forward, the cost of the construction is ballooning.

According to an article in The Observer, the site now boasts one of the most expensive office buildings in the world – the Freedom Tower – and one of the most expensive parking garages in history – the Vehicle Security Center.  And to add to this grandiose display of New York City’s perseverance over tragedy, Santiago Calatrava’s Transit Hub’s PATH station to New Jersey – has become an exceedingly controversial point of contention for its skyrocketing budget, now reported at $3.47 billion still two years away from completion.  This may be one of the most expensive transportation hubs in the world, considering that its passenger volume does not justify this expense as much as its location might.

Join us after the break for more.

WTC Transit Hub / Courtesy of Santiago Calatrava, LLC

In the midst of emotions running high shortly after 9/11, approval for the project has boosted its importance at the center of ground zero.  Inspiration for the design, Calatrava says, is a child releasing a bird.  Since then, the design has morphed from a “bird in flight” to an “immobilized stegosaurus” to satisfy early budgetary constraints, but working from the opposite end the scope of work that the Port Authority has now integrated into the construction of the project has caused its price tag to skyrocket.

Concept: WTC Transit Hub / Courtesy of Santiago Calatrava, LLC

To help fund the Hub the Port Authority diverted funds from its 10-year capital plan, undermining its own regional transportation projects.  ”From the proposed ARC rail tunnel beneath the Hudson into Midtown (canceled by Chris Christie in 2010) and an extension of the PATH train to Newark Liberty International Airport (at a cost of around $500 million) to a thorough renovation of La Guardia Airport ($1 billion in capital funding was cut in 2009), the region has needs, and the Port Authority is struggling to fund them,” writes Stephen Jacob Smith for The Observer.

Initially, the project was to be funded by the Federal Transportation Authority, which pledged a sum of approximately $1.9 billion before the true costs of the project became clear.  It is important to note how the projects within the World Trade Center are unique in the sense that they were, and continue to be, fueled by emotions associated with the 9/11 attacks.  This once grand symbol of capitalism and the free-market, a financial hub of integrity and global authority, was devastated without warning.  The perception of security and stability were shattered.  How else to regain this symbol of American perseverance than to rebuild a financial center that is equal measure a monument, memorial, and symbol of financial strength?

In short, according to Smith, these perceptions of ground zero’s future, permitted the project to exceed the scope of what the FTA would fund under normal circumstances.  The scope of the Hub, which falls into FTA and Port Authority’s budget, includes common infrastructure such as a deck over the Hub that was built to support the memorial above, infrastructure costs on Greenwich Street that are loosely associated with the project, and pedestrian passageways connecting to private office buildings offsite.  Lobbying and political muster pushed the funding of these components to be billed to the Port Authority.

The ultimate decision for budgetary concerns was between time and money.  The heavily integrated elements of the World Trade Center meant that the Hub was part of the base for both the Memorial and the ground on which the Freedom Tower sits.  Keeping with the promise to open the Memorial by 2011 meant that construction of the Hub had to be put off just long enough to build a deck that would support the Memorial, escalating costs.  Impatience for construction of other aspects of the project went along the same route, so that Governor Eliot Spitzer’s desire to curtail expenses resigned with him when David Paterson took office and the need to charge ahead with construction came above all else.

Calatrava’s pricey design was unaltered after its initial bird-to-stegosaurus conversion.  Even with the initial design cutbacks, the price of the project, double the cost at which it was originally bid, comes at the price of those other Port Authority facilities that continue to require maintenance – “100-year-old North River Tunnels to Midtown, the decrepit La Guardia Airport” or delays and shortages along PATH train lines.  In approximately two years time New Yorkers will see what a $4 billion transit hub looks like.  Perhaps then it would justify the expenditure.

via The Observer: PATH/Fail: The Story of the World’s Most Expensive Train Station by Stephen Jacob Smith

Cite: Vinnitskaya, Irina. "Calatrava to Build World’s Most Expensive Transportation Hub" 03 Jun 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 28 May 2015. <>
  • LOW

    Calatrava… ripping off governments one project at a time.

  • bb nyc

    Please do not call One World Trade as the trite and vapid “Freedom Tower”.

  • i2h

    as much as i’d like to see manhattan get a pricey $4 billion transportation hub, the calatrava hub is not what i’d have preferred that to be. the grand central development, or the recent penn station concepts would have been better targets for such a large expenditure.

  • Joe

    The people of new york better like the new PATH terminal. It’s soon to be on the new driver’s license.

  • DR

    In Europe Calatrava is very well known for over expensive projects that many times fall in pieces as well as for his uncommonly high fees (remember the 91million Euro fee for the Science City in Valencia).
    In the past months he has been also accused of unpayed taxes to Spain and many other histories.
    If you know spanish I advice you to read this:

    • Anthony Thompson

      Written by a Communist politician, BTW!

  • Scott Smith

    Wow, can he do something different for a change?

    • Andrew

      …something like deleiver a reasonably-priced project?

  • common

    wow $4 billion..port authority was a symbol of freedom, and monument to tragedy…4 billion? nobody does better symbolic/iconic architecture better than calatrava. massive opportunity was missed here.In the context of new york where space is a premium, if they had selected a proposal that was more functional and had a diverse program…but ah well.jopefully it doesn’t come back to bite calatrava as some of his projects have done in the past.

  • Andrew

    The worlds most expensive leaking roof. Great sculptures, not great architecture.

  • Hotel Sphinx

    The epitome of an architect’s ego completely ruining what should have been a sensible and important public project. $4B for a transit station because some fey sculptor felt that it should look like a bird? Seriously? As a New Yorker, I am outraged that we are paying for this rather than spending the money where it is needed, at Penn Station. Beyond the price tag, the design is cheesy, overly symbolic, and will join other one-liners in the “what were they thinking!?” section of architectural history. What a waste.

  • Ralph Kent

    And in true Blue Peter style, here’s one he prepared earlier:

  • Guenter

    FYI The name for the building you call Freedom Tower was changed in 2007 to WTC1 – this building was designed by David Childs and has nothing to do with Daniel Liebeskind’s former design that was called Freedom Tower.