Tomorrow at 5 a.m., the sparkling and expansive new Fulton Center subway hub will finally open to the public. The MTA celebrated the opening of the $1.4 billion transit complex today with officials and media mingling in the glass and steel shell, now the biggest transit hub in NYC. "The center is an important symbol for New York in so many ways," said MTA chief executive Thomas Prendergast.
The Fulton Center, which has been in the works since 2002 and nearly in danger of not happening, will accommodate up to 300,000 straphangers every day, finally connecting the 2, 3, 4, 5, A, C, J, Z and R lines in a more seamless way than the old, patched-together transfers that were repeatedly referred to as "dark" and "confusing." Eventually, the 1 and E trains as well as the PATH, through the new World Trade Center hub, will connect there as well.
Sen. Charles Schumer proclaimed, "Let the sun shine in!" and referred to 9/11 at the ceremony, calling the station "a metaphor for a revitalized downtown with 40,000 more residents than it had before." Rep. Jerry Nadler said the U.S must invest in its infrastructure—much of the funds for the project were from the feds—to succeed.
More interestingly, the center features a light-filled atrium, thanks to the soaring oculus that is 110 feet high and 53 feet in diameter. Even two stories underground, natural light could be seen during the press tour, and Downtown Alliance president Jessica Lappin referred to one subterranean spot where you can look up at the oculus as "The Circle of Light."
MTA Capital Construction President Dr. Michael Horodniceanu has pointed out that when people can see where they need to go, they can move faster, and the Fulton Center is spacious and clear, with the three large staircase-and-escalator combinations and exits on the ground floor very obvious. More importantly, the whole facility is ADA-compliant, so commuters with disabilities will be able to travel seamlessly. Horodniceanu was beaming during the ceremony, "Magical wouldn't be too strong a word."
MTA Capital Construction Senior Vice President and Engineer Uday Durg and MTA Capital Construction Chief Architect Eve Michel detailed the challenges of building transfers under the Corbin building, an 1899 building that is one of NYC's earliest skyscrapers. The MTA needed to improve upon the Corbin building's foundation, and workers used pick axes, buckets and shovels to dig the dirt! Durg said alarms were set up so if the building moved, their Blackberries would buss; it's very concerning, he said, "when a building moves seven inches to the left or seven inches to the right."
You can still see the original brick upside-down arches from the Corbin building when you take the escalators to and from the 350-foot-long pedestrian tunnel under Dey Street, which connects to the R (and eventually the E and the PATH). The Fulton Center also has 60,000 square feet of planned retail and office space; Michel said that the first tenants will probably move in early next year, and the space will be fully occupied in 12-18 months.
In providing a better commuter experience, the MTA broke through walls to make as much of platforms accessible for transfers as possible. Durg said that the biggest transfer was between the 4/5 and the A/C, and prior to the Fulton Center, most people would pack the first few train cars for the transfer—and when that happens, other commuters will kindly hold the door open for others, but then that adds to delays. Now, there isn't that problem.
Take a look through photos of the hub above, before it is overrun with human beings and given a true NYC makeover (re: urine, graffiti and rat turds). And if you want to visit it yourself, the Fulton Center is at Broadway and Fulton Streets in lower Manhattan (there is also an entrance on John Street, through the Corbin building).
Reporting from Jen Chung