World Trade Center Transportation Hub

The iconic World Trade Center Transportation Hub is on track to be completed in late 2015. Find out more about the work that's gone into the new development, which has been described as one of the world's most complex and ambitious engineering projects.

The site of the World Trade Center towers is now a transport hub for New York
The site of the World Trade Center towers is now a transport hub for New York

Location: New York City, New York
Value: $3.7 billion (USD)
Date of completion: Late 2015
Duration: Ongoing
Client: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
Project manager: PM Team, Headed by Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
Challenge summary: The Transportation Hub is a one-of-a-kind project, in terms of both scope and scale, with global significance.
Challenge solution: The $3.7 billion project’s complexity and seemingly endless array of challenges requires a rare mix of project management, organisation and people skills.

Introduction

The thousands of commuters that pass through the temporary Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) station in Lower Manhattan every day are unaware of the work on the permanent station that is going on directly above them. This is where the World Trade Center Transportation Hub is taking shape. 

Much of the work, however, has taken place out of the public’s view - partitioned off by temporary walls, encased in thick slabs of concrete, enclosed within high-tech security gates, perched high above the ground, or concealed up to 35m beneath it.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey began planning, designing and building the Transportation Hub in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks that felled the Twin Towers and the wrenching and painstaking forensic reclamation that followed. Located on the 6.5ha World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan - home to Wall Street and the world financial district - the Transportation Hub has been called one of the world’s most complex, ambitious and symbolic projects to-date.

The glass and steel Transportation Hub was designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to be a permanent and poignant replacement for a temporary rail station built to restore transit service to Lower Manhattan following 9/11. Calatrava has said he was inspired by the city’s commitment to rebuild, and designed the Hub in the image of a bird taking flight.

A striking and intricate web of vertical and diagonal steel girders forms the 'wings' high above the city streets, and the main transit hall, or ‘oculus,’ sits below, flanked by what will be high-end retail and restaurant space. There, commuters will be able to access 11 different subway lines, the PATH rail line to nearby New Jersey, the MTA Fulton Center interchange, the Battery Park City Ferry terminal, the Winter Garden business and entertainment complex, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, and One World Trade Center and Four World Trade Center. Two World Trade Center, Three World Trade Center and Five World Trade Center will also be linked when they are completed.

The project also includes several ancillary walkways, concourses and street and site improvements, as well as the construction of a state-of-the-art vehicle security center that spans several underground levels. Every tour bus, construction vehicle, delivery truck, cab and carload of visitors will be required to pass through and be screened by the security center before entering the site. (To maintain site safety and help ensure that the facility meets the anticipated demand, all construction-related deliveries to the site now are screened there.)

“The World Trade Center Transportation Hub is the most integrated underground transit center in New York City, and will serve as a world-class transit gateway when it opens later this year,” said Steve Plate, WTC Director of Construction.

World Trade Center Hub tower and site at night
World Trade Center Hub tower and site at night

A massive team of Port Authority professionals and outside consultants, including Hill International, have spent the past several years shepherding the project’s transformation from a muddy, unrecognisable construction site to an international monument and tangible marker of the city’s resilience.

They’ve been in near-darkness more than 100 feet underground, where pre-historic bedrock was chiseled away to make room for new, deeper foundations, where thick slurry walls were poured to hold back the adjacent Hudson River. And they were there again when millions of gallons of rain and river-water flooded and was pumped (in a matter of days) from the site’s recesses after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. 

They’ve worked around, under and above an existing - and continually operating - subway line. They’ve seen plans and designs change to meet evolving logistics, security needs and incredibly challenging and unexpected site conditions (including the discovery of the near-fossilized remains of an 18-century wooden ship buried deep underground). They’ve accommodated myriad schedule changes, as shifting priorities and politics changed everything from major milestones and project delivery dates to how, exactly, materials ordered from around the world got into the hands of workers hunkered four stories below ground.

They’ve watched with pride as the stark and stirring National September 11 Memorial and Museum opened to visitors from throughout the world a decade after the attacks, and then again when the 104-storey One World Trade Center - the US’s tallest building and the world’s fourth - was completed and opened last November. That same month, the final steel rafter was raised and set on the Transportation Hub, a major milestone, and the Port Authority is eager to show the world the finished product in late 2015.

The Transportation Hub is a one-of-a-kind project, in terms of both scope and scale, and has global significance as well. There really isn’t any applicable comparison, Port Authority officials said. While the $3.7 billion project has been criticised for exceeding both budget and schedule, its complexity and seemingly endless array of challenges are often overlooked.

“The Port Authority recognises the Hub as the most complex project in the world, due to the complexities of the World Trade Center site. These include maintaining service on the No.1 Subway Line while work on the Hub continued below it, extensive recovery and repairs following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, repairs to the slurry wall after Hurricane Sandy, and the construction of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and the World Trade Center towers,” Plate said.

The Hub also will not only provide vital transportation access, but will be integral to Lower Manhattan’s ascension as a premiere destination. Even before 9/11, this historic section of the city had played sleepy second-fiddle to flashier, busier Midtown, with little to do there after-hours. Today, that’s quickly changing. Renewed interest in the area, largely the result of all of the construction there, has fueled a welcome spate of new business. Chic restaurants and luxury shops are opening, and high-rise, high-end real-estate is being built.

“The completed Hub will continue to help transform Lower Manhattan into a thriving 24/7 neighborhood and will serve over 250,000 passengers a day,” Plate said. He added that the Hub’s construction “has generated billions--approximately $5.4 billion in economic growth for the region - and tens of thousands of jobs".

The Transportation Hub will be the city’s third-largest transportation terminal, behind Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station, both in Midtown. According to Port Authority spokesperson Erica Dumas, the main hall of the Transportation Hub will be 25m longer than the iconic main concourse at Grand Central, completed in 1913.

“Its incredible architecture will rival Grand Central,” Dumas said. “The Hub’s new retail space will bring an entirely new dynamic to Lower Manhattan.”

From a more practical perspective, the Transportation Hub will fill a long-standing need for easier access to various modes of transportation to and from Lower Manhattan.

“Commuters will have access to a level of inter-connectivity that has never existed before. They’ll enjoy improved travel to Lower Manhattan and the Financial District,” Dumas said. “For the Port Authority, this project will serve as an economic engine for the entire north-east region.”

Complex logistics

World Trade Center construction site
World Trade Center construction site

Work on the Transportation Hub’s main transit hall is far enough advanced to give a sense of the mega-station’s potential grandeur. The bright and airy 110m-long great hall is supported by only four columns. Elegant grand staircases grace either end and will be finished so they gleam in the abundant natural light, and marble will line the space.

In all, the site include:

  • Five new office towers, that will provide a total of more than 90m square feet of new commercial space
  • The National September 11 Memorial and Museum, which incorporates two 30ft-deep cascading pools created in the footprint of the Twin Towers
  • The new underground vehicle security center
  • Parking areas underneath Towers Two, Three and Four
  • The Transportation Hub itself - concourses, tunnels, pedestrian bridges and other access-ways to multiple city transit lines, including the new Fulton Transit Center, as well as a new central chiller plant and central fan plants to accommodate the heating, cooling and ventilation needed throughout the site

“The highly complex infrastructure - including the Memorial pools, repair of the slurry wall, the Museum and One World Trade Center, Towers Two, Three and Four - were under construction simultaneously, and the one train ran throughout construction,” Dumas said. “The site sits adjacent the Hudson River in a busy urban neighborhood, a site with many large-scale construction projects. To say this project is complex is an understatement.”

Managing such incredible logistics requires Port Authority professionals to use every skill and bit of knowledge in their arsenals. It also requires a rare mix of organisational, time-management and people skills, and a healthy dose of tenacity.

Myriad stakeholders

Adding to the project’s complexity are its many stakeholders. These include:

  • The Port Authority
  • The New York City Mayor’s office and various city agencies
  • The states of New York and New Jersey and their involved agencies
  • The Federal Transit Administration
  • Developers
  • Adjacent property owners
  • Project architects
  • Contractors
  • Subcontractors
  • Tenants
  • 9/11 victims’ families

The public was even involved and, despite the number of stakeholders, they’ve worked well together, and have been working well together for more than a decade, Dumas said.

Good neighbours

Rumbling through the Transportation Hub project was the need to keep the popular No. 1 subway line, owned and operated by the New York State Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), fully operational during all excavation and construction. The portion of the line that runs through the Hub had to be supported both during construction and into perpetuity.

The Port Authority also has worked with adjoining property owners and residents of the bustling neighborhood, as well as the families of 9/11’s estimated 2,983 victims, Dumas said. “This site is being developed while trying to respect the families of the victims, the needs of our neighbors and the needs of the public. There is an incredible amount of accountability felt by those involved in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site.”

Interested in seeing your project featured?

Do you or your company have a project you'd like to share with civil engineers from across the globe?

Our Knowledge Marketing team sources content from across the world of civil engineering, as well of as offering opportunities for sponsorship.

Training opportunities from ICE

ICE provides world class training for civil engineers looking to develop their skill set.