Step right up to the newest attraction at the Crossroads of the World: A $30 million stairway.
The 28 shiny steps debuted Monday as part of an overhaul of the bustling Times Square subway station. They replace a stairwell near 43rd St. and Broadway that used to cramp riders into a narrow passage.
The new entryway is 15 feet wide and adorned with a mosaic installation designed by Chicago-based artist Nick Cave.
“The new entrance provides direct access to Times Square, which some people call the center of the world,” said Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Janno Lieber. He said the old entrance “disoriented” tourists.
MTA officials said the stairway project was completed on budget — but the agency pays higher premiums for construction projects than any other transit agency in the world, an ongoing study from researchers at New York University’s Marron Institute has found.
For example, the 1.6-mile extension of the Second Ave. Subway to 125th St. in East Harlem is projected to cost $6.3 billion. That breaks down to $3.9 billion per mile, the highest cost per distance of any subway expansion on the planet.
A 2019 audit commissioned by the MTA found about 20% of the agency’s construction projects run over budget.
Near the new stairs is a new elevator that was paid for by the company Jamestown, which owns the 1 Times Square building above the station. The elevator cost $10 million to install, a third of what the MTA paid contractors for the stairway project.
MTA officials said the cost of the the stairs includes the price of the art installation, the installation of new turnstiles and security cameras — as well as preservation work and utility relocation.
MTA crews last year wrapped up a separate $300 million project that overhauled the platforms for the Times Square shuttle to make them wheelchair-accessible. That project included the extension of a hallway — also decorated with Cave’s mosaics — between the Times Square and Bryant Park subway stations.
But unlike that larger project, the $30 million stairway to tourist heaven is more aesthetic than operational.
“Now we have a really first class entrance from the center of Broadway plaza,” said Lieber. “The new canopy over the stairs was designed to evoke the Waterford crystals that are that ball that drops on New Year’s Eve.”
The MTA has a long history of spending big bucks to gussy up busy subway stations. The agency in 2016, under the direction of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, allocated $72 million for a program called the “Enhanced Station Initiative,” which closed stations for weeks at a time to give them cosmetic overhauls.
One of those “enhanced stations” is the Prospect Ave. station on the R line, which in 2017 got shorter barriers that are easy for fare evaders to climb over.
Lieber did not detail exactly why the new stairs at Times Square cost so much to build — but pointed to the MTA’s push to make more subway stations complaint with the Americans with Disabilities Act as evidence the agency’s construction department has its act together.
“There are 80-plus elevators under development right now through the MTA capital program,” said Lieber. “The pace of building new elevators is completely unprecedented.”