Volume 20, Number 49 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | APRIL 19 - 26, 2008

Council frustrated as Fulton subway project remains sidetracked

By Julie Shapiro

The work to untangle the subway lines beneath Fulton St. will take 12 to 18 months longer than expected and will not be complete for years, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said last week.

This new schedule does not include a plan for the station that was supposed to be built above the subway lines, a project that is on hold after costs skyrocketed.

These announcements came at a hearing chaired by City Councilmember John Liu last week to find out what will happen to the Fulton St. Transit Center, which is over budget and behind schedule.

“So many people have their hopes and plans riding on this,” said Liu, chairperson of the Council’s Transportation Committee. “We need to find out what’s needed to get this back on track.”

In January, the M.T.A. announced that they had received only one bid on a contract to complete the underground subway work at Fulton St. and build the glass-domed station above the hub — and that bid was more than twice what they could afford.

Since then, the M.T.A. has been working to break that contract up into a number of smaller projects and bid each of those separately. The M.T.A. has not yet put any of those contracts out to bid, and the process of repackaging the contracts is what will cause the delay, said Veronique Hakim, acting president of M.T.A. capital construction.

Hakim told the Council that underground work would be delayed 12 to 18 months from the projected completion date of December 2009. Using Hakim’s statement, Liu calculated that the work would be complete by June 2011 at the latest. But Hakim and M.T.A. Director of Planning Bill Wheeler refused to commit to that date, which led Liu to question M.T.A.’s credibility.

“We can’t be specific,” Wheeler said. He said the M.T.A. would complete all the promised aspects of the belowground work, which include improved connections between the eight lines along Fulton St. and new connections to the E and PATH trains at the World Trade Center and the R/W trains at Cortlandt St. The new platforms and underpasses will open as they are complete, Wheeler said.

“It is not good enough for the M.T.A. to say this will still happen but not be able to give the public a revised completion date,” Liu said, raising his voice. “The public deserves to know when big projects, however complicated, will be completed.”

Wheeler replied that the M.T.A. will have a new plan for the project within 30 days and that it will include a revised completion date.

Wheeler also said that in 30 days the M.T.A. will know more about what they will build at Broadway and Fulton St., where they demolished a row of buildings after using eminent domain to evict 150 businesses. A glass-domed station, the “Grand Central of Downtown,” was supposed to go there, but it is now too expensive to build.

Avi Schick, chairperson of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, last week suggested moving the performing arts center slated for the World Trade Center site to the Fulton St. Transit Center instead. The city is studying the feasibility of the move and will announce a decision at the end of the month.

But the M.T.A. has not ruled out preserving some of the key features of the original plan for the station — retail space, natural light, simpler connections and a building that is easy to see from a distance — while cutting the cost.

“I don’t know whether that’s feasible or not,” Wheeler said after the hearing.

Wheeler also does not know whether the M.T.A. could get additional funding for the project.

The M.T.A. originally allocated $903 million in funding for the transit center, including $840 million from the federal government. So far, the M.T.A. has spent $540 million on work that is complete or underway, leaving $363 million remaining. That will be plenty to finish the belowground work, Hakim said, but she did not say how much would be left over to build the station.

Liu asked if the M.T.A. could increase its budget by selling the air rights above the transit hub.

“That’s not really an option at this point,” Wheeler said. He added that there are legal complications associated with selling the air rights because of the way the M.T.A. acquired the project, possibly referring the M.T.A.’s use of eminent domain in demolishing the buildings on Broadway.

After Wheeler testified, Downtown Alliance president Liz Berger and Community Board 1 chairperson Julie Menin spoke. Both criticized the M.T.A.’s delays and the project’s uncertain future.

Menin called the glass-domed transit center “one of the rare instances where you actually had unanimity of opinion among stakeholders Downtown…. It would be unconscionable for the M.T.A. to abandon this plan.”

Several of the small-business owners evicted by the M.T.A. said the M.T.A.’s reassurances sound familiar.

“We’ve been promised things that are not delivered,” said Ann Kayman, a lawyer representing 50 of the evicted businesses. “It’s very demoralizing.”

Kayman said the M.T.A. promised in January to have a new plan for the Fulton St. Transit Center by February. That 30-day deadline came and went, and now the M.T.A. is asking for another 30 days.

Liu released a blistering statement after the hearing, calling the M.T.A. evasive. He said he will insist on seeing the M.T.A.’s new plan in 30 days.

Julie@DowntownExpress.com





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