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Christopher Ward Aims To Bring ‘Clarity’ to Ground Zero

Christopher Ward Aims To Bring ‘Clarity’ to Ground Zero

Jul 07, 2008
By By: Peter Kiefer | NY Sun | New York Sun

Christopher Ward has been in the executive offices of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey less than 50 days, but his honeymoon period – if it could be called that – was over before it started.

The man in charge of the 16-acre site where the World Trade Center was situated did buy himself some time last week, when he delivered an assessment of progress at the site without providing a detailed schedule or budget. Mr. Ward now has until the end of the summer to provide Governor Paterson and the public with a clearly defined and reliable road map of how and when the reconstruction effort will be completed and whether the price tag will top the $15 billion estimate, a challenge his predecessors have been unable to meet. Mr. Ward does not appear intimidated.

“One of the things I am good at is bringing clarity to a complicated situation,” Mr. Ward said in an interview with The New York Sun, following a whirlwind of press conferences and scrutiny last week. “That’s not to say that there aren’t other really smart people that have been dealing with downtown. But having been in government and seen complex problems, I think the one thing I hopefully can bring is a sense of clarity and a determination to get answers.”

Aiming to eschew previous missteps made by the Port Authority – under three different governors it has consistently provided the public with unrealistic completion dates for the five towers, the memorial, the performing arts center, and the PATH transit station – Mr. Ward will not be disclosing any schedules or possible budget overruns before he has a chance to resolve at least 15 unresolved decisions at the site.

He did tip his hand, though, in responding to questions from the Sun regarding budgets, responsibility, and how he plans to negotiate between the various partners, which include the governors of New York and New Jersey, the Federal Transit Administration, the federal government, the Bloomberg administration, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and developer Larry Silverstein, among others.

On the question of possible cost overruns, which published reports have estimated at around $3 billion, he said: “I have never seen anything like $3 billion on an overrun. I will tell you that on a total $15 billion job, which is all the things that are going to get built down there, to be off by 10% for any project is not unreasonable. We are going to see higher budgets. Is it going to be $3 billion? I have never seen a number like that. Is it going to be more than a billion – probably.”

Mr. Ward said the plan’s underground security center probably needs to be rethought and that, if granted an overnight miracle, he would complete the memorial before anything else. Last week, Mr. Ward said the memorial would not be completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

“I think resting within the whole national but also city sense of self – the memorial needs to be done.”

Mr. Ward said he holds the press responsible for the general sense of failure at the site.

“Seriously, I think the press has a responsibility here to understand and report on where we are and what we are actually doing. And again, the dates were dates that were born out of a need to fill a void,” he said.

Before his appointment to executive director by Mr. Paterson, the 53-year-old Mr. Ward most recently worked as managing director of the General Contractors Association of New York, and before that as chief executive officer at the port services company American Stevedoring Inc. Between 2002 and 2005 he served as the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, and he has previously worked for the Port Authority in various capacities.

Mr. Ward is no stranger to large public works project. He helped oversee construction of the $1.9 billion AirTrain serving John F. Kennedy International Airport and, as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, he oversaw the $2.8 billion Croton Water Treatment Plant in Van Cortlandt Park, which has been criticized by the local assemblyman, Jeffrey Dinowitz, as a “boondoggle.”

The president of the Regional Planning Association, Robert Yaro, worked with Mr. Ward on both projects and said he was impressed with his ability to build and maintain a coalition of supporters.

“This is a guy who knows how to make things happen, especially in the current environment where you can’t just jam things down people’s throats,” Mr. Yaro said. “Chris doesn’t act like the smartest guy in the room but behind that he is brilliant. He is one of the smartest people I have ever known,” he said of Mr. Ward, who wrote his master’s thesis at Harvard University’s Divinity School on a theologian and Baptist minister, Walter Rauschenbusch.

Until he delivers his full assessment report on ground zero to Mr. Paterson by the end of September, Mr. Ward will have little time to focus on other projects. He said he has not had enough time to consider whether the Port Authority should take the lead role on the redesign of Pennsylvania Station, although he said he would be “delighted” to play an “appropriate role.”

When he does deliver his assessment report, Mr. Ward said he is confident he could muster the necessary funding and popular support.

“This is what is great about New Yorkers and this has been my experience on a lot of the projects I have been involved in: If you tell people how much money you need, whether it is a subway or a water supply system – things they really want – if you tell them what they are going to get and how much it is going to cost and you explain why it is going to cost that much, they respect you for it and buy into it,” he said.

 

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