Emotions, politics at odds over Manhattan hub

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 12:00am

THE SHATTERED ECONOMY of lower Manhattan has been pitted against the emotionally charged issue of how to honour the September 11 dead in a political tussle over a transportation hub for central New York.

Washington last week handed the city a US$4.6 billion grant to build a subterranean terminal linking dozens of railway lines in the central area. However, a fight is brewing between politicians and businesses who say the aid is not enough and the September 11 families who want the site left undeveloped in honour of the 3,000 who perished in the twin towers' collapse.

Billed as a Grand Central Station for the city centre, the scheme envisages a monumental concourse below the World Trade Centre, where passengers can board or switch trains to destinations within the city and beyond.

Although all the city's underground and railway lines converge there, a history of piecemeal construction and rival operators has meant that few were interconnected. Passengers often had to emerge into the canyons of Wall Street to switch to a train that ran on tracks just feet away.

With the destruction of the World Trade Centre, a huge hole was scoured in the ground of Manhattan, severing underground tracks, crushing stations and destroying tunnels. New York City Transit, the state and city-owned agency that operates the underground, was forced to close surrounding stations and re-route lines to avoid the mess. Three stations are still closed.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the World Trade Centre, also had to section off its busy Trans Hudson Railway link to New Jersey.

With the chance to build a state-of-the art hub from the ground up, business and community leaders have seized the opportunity to push for a facility they say will help rebuild lower Manhattan.

Lower Manhattan City Council member Alan Gerson said: 'We cannot revitalise the economy or the residential areas if people cannot travel.'

The grant was part of a US$20 billion bailout by Washington for shattered Manhattan. But pro-hub interests say it is US$3 billion short of the figure they have called for.

'We will have to seek more money from other projects that we can link in with it,' Mr Gerson said.

One option is to tie the hub into the proposals for a new underground line on the east side of Manhattan.

Lower Manhattan Development Corp, charged with rebuilding lower Manhattan, will begin talks on the hub next month. However, opponents who wish to see only a memorial on the tragic site could derail them.

Already the Families of September 11, which represents 900 families of those lost in the attacks, has lodged its opposition on the grounds that the hub will run beneath the footprint of the collapsed north tower.

'We accept that there will be other developments on the site, but the footprints of the towers should remain untouched,' said the organisation's vice-president Tom Roger, whose daughter was a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11, one of the hijacked planes. He also represents the families' interests on the corporation.

'We feel that a transportation hub would be unrelated and unsuitable.'

The September 11 families carry enormous emotional clout in a nation still scarred by the attacks. Their rejection of six site proposals has forced the corporation back to the drawing board. Their feelings are partly behind a spat between the city, the port authority and the World Trade Centre's lease holder, developer Larry Silverstein.

The city has proposed a land swap with the other two to remove commercial interests from the redevelopment process. That would give the development corporation greater powers to prevent office or retail space being built on the site, in line with the families' demands.

Mr Gerson says some delicate negotiations are in the pipeline.

'If we short-change lower Manhattan now, we will be short-changing its future. Some careful thinking needs to be done.'