Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Patrick Cashin
Construction continues on the Fulton Street Transit Center’s iconic dome and oculus.
Ten years after construction began — and seven after its original scheduled completion date — the Fulton Street Transit Center project overseen by MTA Capital Construction is now expected to be finished in 2014.
Plagued by budget shortfalls and numerous complications stemming from working in the most densely populated area in the country, the project’s goal is to improve access to and connections between 11 Metropolitan Transportation Authority subway stations in Lower Manhattan, easing congestion for the 300,000 daily commuters, residents and visitors.
Planned as a post-9/11 revitalization project for Lower Manhattan, construction on the Transit Center project first began in December 2004. According to the design, work was to be completed in 2007 for a budget of $750 million. However, budgets grew, funding dried up, timetables lapsed and the project languished.
On June 27, 2006, the New York Times reported that the project had been running $45 million over budget, due in part to the cost of relocating 148 businesses and acquiring properties along Broadway, where the new station building will be located.
Design cutbacks resulted in dropping the free transfer from the Cortlandt Street and WTC stations (which were subsequently restored), narrowing the Dey Street underground passageway from 40 to 29 ft. (12.2 to 8.8 m) and simplifying the design of the entrance facility on the east side of Broadway.
Costs and deadlines were revised in January 2008. That summer, shortly after a report prepared by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for the N.Y. governor expanded estimates of both time and funds necessary to complete the work, the Federal Trade Administration announced it would not fund cost overruns.
Fortunately, in January 2009, the MTA received $497 million in federal stimulus money through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, rejuvenating the project. The schedule now calls for its completion in 2014 at a cost of $1.4 billion and previously scaled-back designs have been reinstated — including the four-story, glass-and-steel Transit Center Building with its light-infusing oculus.
“Early funding shortfalls led to scheduling issues,” said Justin Schultz, project engineer of MTA Capital Construction. “This is why we went for stimulus dollars. Since 2009, we established a re-baseline.”
The project is more than 50 percent complete, and MTA already has opened up various parts of the complex for public use. “We are now on schedule and on budget for June 2014.”
The Fulton Street Transit Center is a complicated, multi-faceted project with many components because, Schultz said, “there are more subway connections at Fulton than anywhere else; it connects to half of all the lines in New York City.”
Specific improvements include construction of a high-visibility Transit Center building with entrances on Broadway between Fulton Street and John Street; rehabilitation of several stations; connection of stations via an east-west underground passageway; improved street-level access; simplified transfers and connections; and free transfer between the R and E stations.
The new Transit Center will serve as a well-lit access point featuring open, direct paths, widened corridors and new mezzanines to separate entering, exiting and transferring customers. New underground access will reduce congestion and enhance access formerly hampered by narrow, crowded streets with heavy vehicular traffic.
According to Schultz, the project includes nine to 11 contracts, depending on how you view the project. “Other jobs touch or are part of this area and sometimes get included under this umbrella,” he explained.
From west to east for 0.6 mi., the separate segments include a new concourse between the E and R lines; a rehabilitated R train station; a passageway under Dey Street that links the PATH, E and R lines to stations on the 2, 3, 4, 5, A, C, J and Z lines; a new entrance at Dey Street and Broadway; the main transit center building and the rehabilitated 19th-century Corbin Building on Broadway, with 70,000 sq. ft. of retail space; the new mezzanine along the A and C lines; and a rehabilitated station on the 2 and 3 lines.
Construction started in December 2004. Four of the contracts have been completed, with five currently active under the supervision of four general contractors: Skanska, with two of the contracts; WDF; Plaza-Schiavoney and Judlau.
Current contracts include work on the R station, which was damaged during the 9/11 attack and again when the Port Authority did blasting on the World Trade Center, causing collateral damage to the structural box. Structural work is being done on two sections, along with updates to bring it up to code. In addition, aesthetic work is being performed on the platform and wall tile. A series of 10 ceramic relief murals by Margie Hughto that were installed in the Cortlandt station in 1997 as part of the Arts for Transit program will be feature a plaque explaining that the panels survived the 9/11 attacks.
One of the new stations is the Dey Street concourse, which will provide convenient access below street level between the Transit Center and the WTC site, with links to the R and E subway lines and the new PATH Hub. “It allows ’R people’ to walk underground to other stations,” Schultz said. “Eventually it will all connect to the WTC, which is also under construction, and other office buildings in the area.”
He said four office towers are planned on the WTC site, the first of which is expected to be completed in 2013.
To build the tunnel under Dey Street, crews opted for the cut-and-cover method instead of tunnel boring because it’s just one block.
The 4/5 station underneath Broadway is the busiest subway line in New York, Schultz said.
“It equals the traffic of the [Washington] D.C. and Boston lines combined.”
In 2006 and 2007 new platform entrances were opened to alleviate crowding and reduce congestion. Renovated platforms are expected to open this year.
Built in 1904, the 4/5 is also one of the original stations and an historic landmark. Therefore, Schultz noted, they had to comply with historic preservation rules during rehabilitation. Fortunately, no structural work was required. Instead, work focused on lighting, electrical and tile. Original mosaics and terra cotta tile work along the 4/5 line are being carefully restored.
Conversely, the above-ground Transit Center Building at Fulton Street and Broadway is brand new, with a modern design.
“It’s where the 4-5 and the A-C come together for the first time,” Schultz said. “It’s a big connection.”
The transfer station that connects Manhattan to Brooklyn was a bottleneck with many delays, he added. This expanded space for transfers should alleviate congestion.
Beyond logistical improvements, the Transit Center will offer visual appeal. The building will be a silver gem in the heart of Lower Manhattan, with its steel and glass curtain wall rising three to four stories, capped by a glass oculus that conveys natural light to the lowest level. The 110-ft. (33.5 m) dome designed by artist James Carpenter is key to the philosophy of creating public spaces in these utilitarian junctures. Destined to become a visible portal to downtown, the oculus, which Schultz deemed “the final piece,” is expected to be completed in 2014.
The new Transit Center will feature 26,000 sq. ft. (2,415 sq m) of retail space and serve as the underground hub for 12 subway lines as well as provide a link to the historic Corbin Building. Built in 1889, the nine-story structure on the corner of Broadway and John Street will be fully refurbished and incorporated into the transit center entrance design. Incorporating the Corbin building with the new Transit Center Building “merges old with new,” Schultz said.
Listed on both the State and National Register of Historic Places and once known as a “proto-skyscraper” because of its architectural innovations, the nine-story cast iron and terra cotta landmark former office building features a brass staircase. Lower levels will be leased as retail space once the building has been brought up to code, Schultz reported. Restoration of the Corbin Building is expected to be complete by the end of 2012.
The final contract is for the reconfiguration and rehabilitation of the Fulton Street A/C station, which is one of the most complicated aspects of the entire project. Built in 1933, the station featured a maze of switchback ramps that Schultz describes as “steep and confusing.” The new design calls for one level to increase sightlines and reduce confusion. Escalators and elevators are being added for circulation.
The station will connect to the new underground Dey Street Pedestrian Concourse between Broadway and Church Street. Adding complexity to the work, the J/Z line bisects the A-C station. As Schultz said, “you can’t move the tracks.”
As the country’s largest Federal Transit Authority project in the densest location, the Fulton Transit Center has posed many challenges. “It’s Lower Manhattan,” Schultz expounded. “There are old buildings and narrow streets with subway lines underneath. It’s tight. We can’t add additional area. We can’t build new lines and stations.”
Constricted space complicated the arrival of equipment and removal of debris. “Manhattan is an island, so everything has to come in or go out over a bridge,” Schultz said. “That requires a permit.”
Vast amounts of debris from demolition of the ramps in the A/C station and a small building that was excavated in order to build the foundation of the Transit Center had to be removed from the island.
Equally sizeable quantities of materials had to be brought in: floor and wall tile, lighting, electrical conduit, duct work, structural steel for a new support system to replace the center columns of the A/C station, 19 elevators 10 escalators and “tons of concrete.” An onsite plant was used for early contracts, but concrete is being trucked in for the Transit Center Building.
A separate permit from the Department of Transportation was necessary for the 100-ft. (30.5 m) tower crane used for steel erection on the new Transit Center Building. Scheduling that took weeks of planning, Schultz reported, further complicated by autumnal weather delays. Cancelling plans one weekend had a domino effect on the schedule. When the crane was ready to be erected, Broadway closed.
It’s more difficult to close the subway lines, so crews have to work around customers on a single shift five days a week, although Schultz indicated that there has been a small amount of “General Order” work, during which rail service was suspended.
“It happens mostly at night or on weekends, for work above or close to the track, or when new floor tile is being installed on the platform,” he said. A weekend GO gives crews 53 hours to complete a task.
New Yorkers are taking the disruption in stride — probably because Lower Manhattan has been undergoing heavy construction for 10 years.
“It’s a benefit that we’re not the only project!” Schultz laughed.
Feedback from the community board has been positive, due to a strong outreach program by MTA Capital Construction.
“It’s a big part of the job,” Schultz said. In addition to the preliminary long-range forecast of impacts and needs prepared prior to construction, there are monthly meetings with the NYC DOT about the effects the project has on local residents and businesses, which are being supported with banners during construction. There is coordination with the Downtown Alliance on site beautification and with the NYC Department of Health on rat abatement. Communication is ongoing with the NYC police and fire departments and the MTA police to meet security and safety standards. “Coordination is key,” Schultz summed up.
Another of the many challenges is simply the number of people — approximately 500 onsite — and the fact that they work for different contractors. Because there are numerous contracts, two different contractors are often working next to one another. Schultz says it’s important that their work blend smoothly.
Despite the many challenges, Schultz considers it a “very interesting project to work on. It has a little bit of everything: it’s a government-owned project with federal funding and a lot of logistics challenges. In 100 years, this will be the Grand Central of Lower Manhattan.”