Calatrava's PATH Station Funding Now for Penn Station
The multibillion-dollar PATH station planned for ground zero could end up on the chopping block when a new executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is named in the coming days, according to several sources familiar with the plans.
In the present economic climate, all or part of the $1.9 billion in federal funding that is supporting the increasingly unpopular project could be redirected to other, more urgent transportation priorities, including the billion-dollar gap in public funding needed to undertake the renovation of Pennsylvania Station in Midtown. Governor Paterson is said to be leaning toward replacing the Port Authority’s outgoing director, Anthony Shorris, with the managing director of the General Contractors Association of New York, Christopher Ward, who previously headed the city’s Department of Environmental Protection and served as chief of planning and external affairs at the Port Authority.
Several planning and development analysts said the change in leadership would present the governor with an opportunity to change course on the PATH station, where cost estimates have soared recently to an estimated $2.5 billion and could reach $3 billion, according to a recent assessment report on the project. The original cost was $2.2 billion. “It is clearly time to come up with a new set of priorities, and there clearly has to be a reassessment of what we can afford,” the president of the Regional Plan Association, Robert Yaro, said in an interview.
Mr. Yaro, noting the tough economic climate and the number of projects that are either stalled or facing financing difficulties, questioned the logic of moving forward with both the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Fulton Street Transit Center and the Port Authority’s PATH station, which would be built within blocks of each other at a combined cost of more than $3.5 billion.
The president of the Municipal Art Society, Kent Barwick, said he does not oppose plans for the PATH station but that a decision should come down to the best allocation of resources. “If the cost of building and operating the building are way out of line with the benefits, then I would expect that the people in charge and the Paterson administration would take a hard look at it,” he said.
From its conception in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, the PATH station, a white, glass aboveground structure designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to resemble a dove, was viewed with skepticism. The present, temporary station services about 50,000 commuters daily, most of whom travel back and forth between Lower Manhattan and New Jersey.
By comparison, Penn Station is said to be the busiest train station in America and serves about 600,000 daily commuters from New Jersey and Long Island, in addition to tens of thousands of Amtrak passengers. The original temporary PATH station, which was operational in November 2003, cost $323 million. A new entrance to the temporary PATH station opened this month.
Many in the development community viewed last week’s removal of Mr. Shorris, an appointee of Governor Spitzer, as a signal that Mr. Paterson is ready to make his presence felt in the state’s development projects. They warn, however, that if Mr. Paterson moves to cut the PATH station, he will face a number of regulatory and political hurdles.
Most of the project is to be financed with a $1.9 billion grant from the Federal Transit Administration, which was part of the larger $20 billion post-September 11, 2001, recovery package provided by the Bush administration. Shifting the use of the money would require the lobbying and support of much of New York’s congressional delegation, including senators Schumer and Clinton, as well as Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes ground zero. And because the Port Authority is a bistate agency whose board is made up of appointees of both the governors of New York and New Jersey, Governor Corzine could disrupt the plans. In addition, the PATH station is within the district of the speaker of the state Assembly, Sheldon Silver, who could try to block the transfer of transportation funds to other areas of New York.
Neither Mr. Schumer’s office nor a spokesman for the Federal Transit Administration responded to messages seeking a comment for this article. “This is a project that we are committed to that is critical to the rebuilding of downtown and one that is going to be built,” a spokesman for the Port Authority, Steve Sigmund, said. Still, a number of sources said that, given the political will on the part of Mr. Paterson, a portion of the federal funds could be redirected to other projects, such as a rail link to John F. Kennedy International Airport from Lower Manhattan, or even the overhaul of Penn Station. Shifting the monies to the Midtown project was a possibility that was being explored by the Spitzer administration, according to a source involved in those negotiations.
The state and two private developers had envisioned a $14 billion project around Madison Square Garden that would have demolished the 40-year-old arena to build office buildings and would have completed a $2 billion renovation of the existing Penn Station. The plan fell apart last month because of a billion-dollar shortfall in public funding and Madison Square Garden officials’ decision to move ahead with a renovation of the existing arena.
Recently, Mr. Paterson said he supported the Port Authority assuming more of a lead role in reviving the plan to move Madison Square Garden to the Ninth Avenue side of the Farley Post Office site, allowing for Penn Station to be renovated.