For the last 15 years, lower Manhattan has been under construction. Building after building and milestone after milestone, New York City has been slowly rebounding – and healing – from the events of September 11, 2001. This week, another milestone marked the journey in that process, with Skanska’s substantial completion of six-and-a-half years of work on the World Trade Center Transportation Hub and Oculus, opening the final part of the main passenger hall to the public.
Linking multiple subway and commuter rail lines, the completed Transportation Hub serves hundreds of thousands of commuters every day and contributes to the larger vision of a fully-rebuilt World Trade Center site.
Skanska Project Director Gary Thomson has been there from the start. Standing in the Hub’s soaring Oculus entrance hall, which opened in March 2016, he watched the masses of travelers flowing past him and reflected on his time there.
“Seeing the smiles on people’s faces as they walk through here gives you a sense of gratitude,” Gary says. “This is more than a construction project – this is a memorial for the families of those lost in the attacks. That’s something we felt every day working here. I’ll never build another project with this kind of emotional impact.”
Skanska’s joint venture at the World Trade Center faced unique challenges in delivering the project, most of which is underground. The Hub’s main section sits below the National September 11 Memorial, which opened in 2011 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the attacks. To allow that to happen on time, Skanska built the Hub from the top down, rather than from the bottom up, a non-traditional construction approach that added and additional layer of complexity.
The No. 1 subway line bisects the Hub’s subterranean site, and it needed to stay operational during construction. So while the subway was suspended 70 feet in the air, Skanska crews built under, over and around it. They also safely built around the thousands of commuters, as they went to and from a temporary plywood-and-concrete train terminal.
Further complicating Skanska’s work was Hurricane Sandy, which in 2012 flooded the subterranean project with some 40 feet of floodwater, more than 200 million gallons.
“When Sandy hit, we had to take a big step back. We were able to quickly and safely switch gears, get new equipment in and rebuild,” said Project Superintendent Wayne Paliga. “A further adjustment was keeping the station active while building these final platforms, which was a constant and everyday challenge we were proud to overcome.”
The complex logistics of the World Trade Center site itself – with many structures being built simultaneously – further challenged our crews. At one point, 13 cranes and more than 4,000 workers were packed into the five city blocks of the site.
“I’m very proud of our teams that we finally got to the finish line,” Gary says. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Visitors to the Transportation Hub are now greeted with expanses of smooth Italian marble and huge exposed steel beams that ripple overhead – all of it pure white. It’s a place teeming with life, but also a place to remember what happened 15 years ago. Reminders of that day are throughout the Hub, including visible sections of the original Twin Towers’ steel framework and concrete foundation (both built by Skanska in the 1970s).
It’s also a place to be proud of the tremendous efforts of those who labored to bring this hallowed ground back to life.
“We’ve come back from the ashes,” says Gary, who lost two close friends on 9/11. “It’s all back together now after so many years.”