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Downtown's Transportation Future?

By: Josh Rogers February 19, 2003

The new transit hub the Port Authority hopes to see at the World Trade Center site would have views of St. Paul's Chapel from inside the terminal. The long-term viability of Lower Manhattan will be determined in less than two weeks if you believe the many analysts who say improving transportation is the key to Downtown's future. Officials from the various agencies with a stake in transportation or in the land in and near ground zero are expected to make most of the final transportation decisions by the end of February, when the street plan for the World Trade Center site is also selected. "The two most important things for Lower Manhattan businesses are access to Long Island and the airports and building convenient transportation hubs," said Carl Weisbrod, president of the Downtown Alliance, which administers the Financial District's business improvement district. "For the business community, without a doubt, that's the priority." The Alliance estimates that companies leasing seven million square feet of office space Downtown have leases up for renewal within three years and argue that many will leave the area if they don't see that transportation improvements are being made.

The Port Authority, which owns the W.T.C. and runs the PATH commuter trains, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority last week disclosed more of the details of the two proposed Downtown hubs - the rebuilt PATH station at the W.T.C. site, which might also have connections to J.F.K. and Newark Airports, and the redesigned subway center at the Broadway/Nassau/Fulton. (see related article)

The two hubs would be connected by an underground passageway with moving walkways. Robert Davidson, the P.A.'s chief architect, said the walkways would mean a Westchester or Upper East Side rider would be able to save 10 minutes by taking the Lexington line to Fulton and make it west to the in World Financial Center. "All I can say is, wow," said Councilmember John Liu, chairperson of the Council's Transportation Committee about the Port's entire presentation. "If you shave 20 minutes off a person's daily commute, that will be extremely appreciated."

Airport Access There are however, criticisms of the P.A.'s position. At the Feb. 13 hearing, officials with the agency were less enthusiastic about building airport connections than city officials who testified at the hearing, business groups and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Councilmember Oliver Koppell said he found it surprising, since the P.A. operates the New York and New Jersey airports. "When you were talking about airports access it was almost an afterthought," Koppell told Anthony Cracchiolo, the Port's director of capital projects. "Since you are the Port Authority it shouldn't be an afterthought." Gov. George Pataki, who shares control of the agency with New Jersey, recently wrote to the federal government that he wanted to improve connections to J.F.K., but unlike projects such as the transportation hubs, he did not identify how much it would cost.

About $4.5 billion of federal money is currently available for transportation improvements to Lower Manhattan and if it was spent on an airport connection to J.F.K. it would eat into most of the funds. Mayor Bloomberg has proposed a new tunnel connecting to the airport and the Long Island Rail Road, which he estimates would cost $4 billion. Brookfield Financial Properties, owners of the World Financial Center, has proposed a connection using the A,C subway line at a cost of $2 billion, but there is a dispute about whether the plan would curtail subway service. Weisbrod said more of the $21 billion pledged to help Lower Manhattan recover and rebuild should be spent on transportation, and Louis Tomson, president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., has talked about shifting an additional $2.7 billion of the federal money into transportation funds.

PATH & the WTC

The temporary PATH W.T.C. station is expected to reopen before the end of this year with the only entrance near Fulton and Church Sts. This will allow the permanent, $2 billion station to be built while the temporary one remains open. It could open by the end of 2007.

The P.A. hopes to have a major entrance on Dey and Church Sts., new elaborate parks on the north and south sides leading into the station, and an underground connection to the Financial Center in Battery Park City. The station will have much better connections with the subway system and will have natural light and views of the street from all levels.

The plan is to enlarge the Church St. sidewalk and build a large awning for passengers coming out of the station. The new station would also allow for an underground subway connection to Century 21 department store.

Davidson, the Port's architect, said the stations designed by the two architectural teams being considered for the W.T.C. plan are both compatible with the Port Authority's idea. "This is about planning, not beauty or aesthetics," he said. "We have to make sure all of the planning elements work."

He said the two plans, by Studio Daniel Libeskind and Team THINK, need to be adjusted more so that there is more room underground for tour buses and mechanical equipment. It is also clear that the Port Authority wants to keep more retail underground than do city officials and the L.M.D.C., which has asked the W.T.C. architects to adjust their plan accordingly.

Davidson said the new underground retail would look more like its part of a transportation center than a mall. He called it "a major regional transit hub with integrated retail, which is very very different from what was there before." Two weeks ago, Frederic Schwartz, one of THINK's architects, told Downtown Express that his team had already moved more of the retail to the street. Weisbrod, who is also a member of the L.M.D.C. board, said too much is being made of the retail dispute. "The issue isn't 'is it bad to have retail below ground?' The issue is 'how do we get as much retail and as much street life above ground as possible.' "

Another issue involving the site plan is developer Larry Silverstein, who leased the Twin Towers for $3.2 billion a few months before they were destroyed and still retains leasing rights to the site. He has criticized both plans under consideration because of their call for tall structures and for not having enough office space. He has asked the teams to work with his architects at Skidmore Owings & Merrill, which submitted one of the rejected plans for the site.

John Whitehead, the L.M.D.C.'s chairperson, said the dispute with Silverstein is being lessened. "Mr. Silverstein has problems with the plans of the two architects; but instead of asserting he has problems and going home, he and his architects are working closely with the two architects," Whitehead said at last week's meeting of the development corporation. "They are seeking to meet each other's needs." But when asked if he thought Silverstein would endorse whichever plan is selected at the end of the month, Whitehead said he remained hopeful but he would not make any predictions.

The Port Authority estimates there will be 5 million visits a year to the 9/11 memorial and that 1.25 million will come by bus or car. It expects the majority will come by train or foot Council member Alan Gerson, whose district includes the W.T.C. and the surrounding area, said the tour bus issue is important to resolve. "We have a community that is terrified at the prospect of a bus invasion," he said. Gerson also said all of the talk of the two transportation hubs ignores the question of improving connections to neighborhoods east of Nassau St., such as the Seaport and Chinatown.

Ferries

In June, the Port Authority expects to reopen the Exchange Pl. PATH station in Jersey City, which had to close because it led directly into the W.T.C. station. The Port is currently negotiating with New York Waterway for the firm to expand its ferry service from Exchange Pl. to the W.F.C. and Pier 11 near Wall St. to accommodate the new commuters who will be coming to Exchange Pl. from the Newark PATH station.

Arthur Imperatore, Jr., Waterway's president, said in a telephone interview, that during rush hours, the expanded routes would likely run every five minutes to the W.F.C. and 10 minutes to Pier 11 on the East River. He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay for the expansion under the existing arrangement in which FEMA assures Waterway a guaranteed profit in return for Waterway providing a service in connection with 9/11 damage.

With the destruction of the PATH station, Waterway saw its ridership triple on some of its existing routes and it greatly increased the number of new routes. "We saw six years of growth compressed into a six-week period," Imperatore said. He said the plan is to continue all of its expanded runs for six months after the temporary PATH reopens in December. He expects his ridership will drop to a level that is higher than it was before Sept. 11, 2001, and then resume the gradual increase that was occurring before the attack.

"I think our ridership from Hoboken to the World Financial Center will definitely decrease, but I think it will go to a level that was higher than it was pre-9/11," he said.

The Port Authority hopes to open its long-planned permanent W.F.C. ferry terminal at the end of 2004 and capital-projects director Cracchiolo said he has been talking with the Battery Park City Authority and Brookfield, owners of the Winter Garden, about building a continuous awning from the ferry terminal to the Winter Garden to protect ferry commuters from the rain. Officials from the B.P.C.A. or Brookfield could not be reached for comment, but the B.P.C.A. has in the past had aesthetic and congestion concerns about the Port's ferry plans in the neighborhood.

West St.

The issue of how best to connect the W.T.C. site and Battery Park City, which are separated by West St., continues to be a contentious area. A short bypass tunnel between Vesey and Liberty Sts. is now favored by Gov. Pataki, most of the business community and some of the residents of Lower Manhattan, but it is opposed by many others who live in Battery Park City and some politicians. Community Board 1 voted that the option should be considered. The Alliance's Weisbrod said the tunnel would create a smooth pedestrian connection over what is now a six-lane highway. "It would have a minimum impact on the residents of Battery Park City and it will greatly connect the World Financial Center to the World Trade Center site."

Cost estimates go up to $900 million for the tunnel, but Weisbrod said it was possible to significantly reduce the costs by changing the way the state negotiates contracts. A similar mechanism was used to repair and restore the 1/9 subway stations after the attack, he said. But John Dellaportas, a leader of the group formed to oppose the four-block-long tunnel, said the money could be better spent on things like Brookfield's plan to improve commuter and airport access rather than a tunnel he feels will only benefit Brookfield. "It's a billion-dollar corporate subsidy for a large lawn in front of an upscale shopping area." He said people who live right next to West St. are opposed and the only Downtowners who favor it are "residents of Tribeca and far-off places that really don't have a vested interest in West St." Dellaportas said if the tunnel is approved it will never get built because of the same type of neighborhood opposition that a generation ago killed another plan for the roadway. "We wil be able to defeat it in the political process, just like Westway."

Josh@DowntownExpress.com ©Downtown Express 2003

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