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Citing Budget Concerns, PA Plans for More Modest Hub at WTC

Citing Budget Concerns, PA Plans for More Modest Hub at WTC

Apr 16, 2008
By By: David W. Dunlap | New York Times | The New York Times

Concerned that the permanent World Trade Center transportation hub cannot be built as designed within the budgeted amount, the Port Authority has begun preparing plans for a more modest alternative.

The authority’s concern, which goes back more than a year, is underscored by a risk assessment prepared for the Federal Transit Administration in January by Carter & Burgess, a transportation consultant. The assessment said that there was less than a 5 percent probability that the $2.221 billion budget would be met and that there was a 10 percent probability that the costs would exceed $2.991 billion.

“Something we knew – our estimates aren’t far from that – is that we had to continue our work of reducing, changing the way we build it, changing some elements of the scoping, so that we could bring it in within the resources that we have,” Anthony E. Shorris, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said Tuesday in an interview. The transportation hub is financed chiefly with a $1.9 billion grant from the federal agency. Mr. Shorris said the goal was to design a project that could be built for no more than $2.5 billion, counting a $280 million construction reserve as part of the total available financing.

He said that in four to six weeks, the Port Authority was likely to issue bid solicitations “to see what the market tells us about the pricing,” based on the current design by Santiago Calatrava, working with the firms STV and DMJM Harris.

“There has been some softening, or signs of softening, in the construction market,” Mr. Shorris said, “and it’s possible that it may come in within the $2.2 and $2.5 billion that’s available. On the other hand, it may not.”

Against that possibility, he said, the authority was also preparing a more modest plan that would make greater use of the existing tracks and structure of the interim PATH terminal, pare down the design of below-ground elements, increase the use of columns in wide spans and simplify some engineering. “We want to make sure we have that alternative in place that does price out at $2.5 billion, so we know that we have an option to go to,” Mr. Shorris said.

In no case, he said, would the hub lose its aboveground aesthetic signature: an elliptical, ribbed, winged structure that Mr. Calatrava has likened to a bird taking flight: a potent symbol of rebirth at the site of the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001.

“We’re committed to that as an important part of the downtown Manhattan landscape,” Mr. Shorris said.

Mr. Calatrava’s overall design has undergone at least two significant if largely invisible revisions since it was unveiled in 2004. The first, in 2005, made the aboveground structure more blast-resistant by doubling the number of ribs, reducing the amount of glass and placing a solid wall around the base of the structure.

The second round of revisions has been going on since early 2007, when the construction manager, Phoenix Constructors, estimated that it would cost $2.7 billion to $3.4 billion to build. Mr. Shorris and Steven P. Plate, the director of priority capital programs at the authority, credited Mr. Calatrava with devising dozens of innovative strategies for saving money without compromising the essential design of the hub, in a process known as “value engineering.

Despite that, Mr. Shorris said, construction costs generally had been rising faster than methods could be found for containing costs. “Right now, we don’t think all of these changes get us all the way to where we need to go,” he said.

The assessment, which is prepared quarterly, identifies five major risks to staying within budget and five major risks to staying on schedule. In the latest “snapshot,” as Carter & Burgess calls it, they include the difficulties of building around the No. 1 subway line, which bisects the site; the way in which costs are allocated between the Port Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; and even an anticipated shortage of ironworkers.

“The truth is, once you get rid of these five risks, there will be five more,” Mr. Shorris said. “Our job as the master builder here is to bang these out one after the next. And that’s what we’re doing.”


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