By Barbara Goldberg
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The newly built World Trade Center Transportation Hub, designed to resemble a dove but tasked with the job of a phoenix, opens this week, nearly 15 years after the Sept. 11 attacks left Lower Manhattan in ashes.
Oculus, the birdlike structure that is the hub's focal point, welcomes the public on Thursday, months ahead of the expected opening of connections to 11 New York City subway lines and the underground PATH trains that link New York to New Jersey.
Resembling Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava's vision of a dove released into the air from a child's hands, Oculus has a practical purpose: To rebuild the PATH terminal that was destroyed when the Twin Towers collapsed in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
But it also symbolizes the rebirth of Lower Manhattan after the devastation of 9/11 and the dark days that followed.
"The station, in its beauty and grandiosity, represents a testimony of faith and hope in the future of New York," Calatrava said in a statement.
With a final price tag of $4 billion, twice the estimate when it was unveiled in 2004, the soaring space has been described by some residents as an architectural wonder and by others as an eyesore.
The white steel and marble structure is dramatic to behold, with two metal-ribbed wings springing out from an elliptical shaped transit hall that is roughly the size of a soccer field.
Its soaring glass roof is meant to bring natural light to the 250,000 commuters expected to travel through the hub each day, even those on the PATH train platform 60 feet (18 meters) below the street.
In remembrance of the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks, the project features a 330-foot (100-meter) retractable skylight that will be open on temperate days as well as annually on Sept. 11.
Cafes and stores are expected to fill its 75,000 square feet (6,967 square meters) of retail space, and draw many of the estimated 17 million tourists forecast to visit Lower Manhattan in 2019.
The project, destined to appear in iconic photos depicting the sights of New York City, has taken years longer than expected to complete, making it one of the most expensive and delayed train stations ever built.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)