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New Ground Zero Timetable Fails to Convert Some Skeptics

New Ground Zero Timetable Fails to Convert Some Skeptics

Oct 03, 2008
By By: Charles V. Bagli and David W. Dunlap | NY Times | The New York Times

More than anything, the report on ground zero reconstruction issued by the Port Authority on Thursday was intended to restore confidence in a rebuilding effort that was far behind schedule, way over budget and mired in bureaucratic conflicts.

The assessment, which was ordered by Gov. David A. Paterson to provide new timetables and cost projections “without spin or false optimism,” was also meant to resolve tensions pitting the Port Authority against Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and families of those killed on Sept. 11, who feared that the memorial would not be completed by the 10th anniversary of the attack.

For Mr. Paterson, the report went a long way toward achieving those goals.

“Today, we have a road map for transforming 16 acres at ground zero back into a robust area ready for business, transportation and tourism,” he said on Thursday at a news conference. “We not only have deadlines for each project, we have multiple milestones for each one. I will hold the Port Authority accountable for hitting these milestones.”

But given a seven-year history of disappointments and delays at the site, some people with a stake in the reconstruction remained skeptical that the new timetables and cost estimates would prove any more reliable than the old ones. They noted that there had been other, unsuccessful attempts at honest accounting before.

“It’s a new beginning,” said Elizabeth H. Berger, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York, a business improvement district. “There have been many. This one seems thoughtful, practical and direct. It lays out achievable timetables for many of the important elements. But we’ve got to stick to the timetable.”

The reconstruction project includes a $3.2 billion transit center, the $3.1 billion Freedom Tower, new streets, an underground vehicle screening center and an eight-acre memorial plaza and museum. The revamped plan released on Thursday lays out a detailed schedule calling for most of those projects to be completed between 2012 and 2014.

Four years ago, before the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey assumed responsibility for the project, officials said that most of the trade center’s important elements would be completed by the end of 2009.

The report also calls for the memorial plaza, with waterfalls, reflecting pools and parapets lined with the names of those killed on Sept. 11, to be completed in time for a public commemoration of the 10th anniversary.

Given the history of delays, even the authority’s executive director, Christopher O. Ward, was careful to note on Thursday that the new timetable was less a guarantee than a reasonably confident projection.

To cover his bets, Mr. Ward presented two dates for each project: a target date and a “probabilistic” date, based on computer analysis of many random things that might go wrong.

“This report allows us to say with certainty what we’re building, who’s building it, when it will be built and for how much,” Mr. Ward told the authority’s board of commissioners at a morning meeting.

Even in the best case, he said, it will be necessary to suspend service on the No. 1 subway line below Chambers Street for six weeks in 2010, with some temporary shutdowns “as necessary” in 2009. He also said PATH service to the World Trade Center station would be closed on most weekends starting next summer and stretching out three years, for 40 weekends out of each year.

Privately, people involved in the reconstruction expressed continuing worries that even under the new plan, the complexity of the transit center would slow construction of the memorial, Greenwich Street and three of the office towers.

And some advocates for the memorial grumbled that portions of the memorial plaza would remain a construction site well after Sept. 11, 2011.

“It’s good that there’s finally been a critical assessment of the priorities,” said Julie Menin, chairwoman of Community Board 1, which includes ground zero, and a member of the foundation. “I’m still concerned about aspects of the memorial museum not being open until 2013.”

Ms. Menin said she also wanted the authority to retain plans for a performing arts center, which was not mentioned in the report.

More telling was what was not said by some executives involved in rebuilding, like Larry A. Silverstein, a frequent critic of the authority, who did not embrace the report. Under the development plans for ground zero, Mr. Silverstein is to build three huge office towers on the 16-acre site by 2012.

“We are now going to study the Port Authority’s report and back-up materials so that our construction professionals can evaluate the new dates they have identified,” Mr. Silverstein said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon. “This will allow us to gauge the impact on our part of the World Trade Center rebuilding effort.”

Indeed, the next, already bitter, negotiation about ground zero is between Mr. Silverstein and the authority over the schedule for the three towers. Some executives question whether the market can absorb all the towers at the same time, while others question whether the developer has enough money or can line up enough tenants.

Kathryn S. Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, praised the new schedule and budget for reconstruction. “They did exactly the right thing,” she said. “The program they laid out makes sense. Hopefully, it’ll be followed by a phase-in approach to the commercial office buildings that makes equal sense.”

Here is part of the new timetable:

-The World Trade Center Transportation Hub could be completed in the fourth quarter of 2013, though it might stretch out to the second quarter of 2014. The cost is now estimated at $3.2 billion, 50 percent higher than the original budget. When it was announced in 2004, officials said the hub, which is principally a PATH terminal, would open in 2009.

-One World Trade Center, once known as the Freedom Tower, will be completed between the first and fourth quarters of 2013, five years later than originally planned, at a budget of $3.1 billion, or about three times the original estimate.

-The underground Vehicle Security Center, a series of checkpoints, ramps and roadways serving the cars and trucks coming to the trade center, can be completed in the first quarter of 2012, but no later than the third quarter of 2012. Its current cost, $633 million, is almost one-third higher than the original estimate.

-The re-creation of Greenwich Street, which had been eliminated by the original trade center, will be completed as early as the second quarter of 2012 or as late as the fourth quarter, at a cost of $281 million, which is under the transportation hub budget.

Because the engineering of the memorial is tied intimately to that of the transportation hub – the two projects literally overlap near Greenwich and Fulton Streets – the anticipated delays in the memorial construction could be solved only by changing the way the hub is to be built. And that posed an acute challenge for the Port Authority, since it is heavily invested in the innovative design by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

The tension between the two projects translated into late-night negotiations before Mr. Ward’s report was made public.

Perhaps most important, the discussions yielded a new “deckover” approach to construction of the transportation center’s mezzanine, which lies directly under the northeast corner of the memorial plaza. Rather than building the mezzanine from the ground up, Mr. Ward said, it will get a roof deck first, so that construction can proceed on both projects simultaneously.

Another crucial engineering issue was how to permanently support the No. 1 subway tunnel, which bisects the trade center site. Mr. Ward said four choices were studied: using the temporary pilings that currently support the tunnel while a new supporting structure is created, installing new caissons entirely, rebuilding the subway tunnel entirely or simply filling in the earth below the tunnel, thereby losing usable space for the underground part of the trade center.

Mr. Ward said using the existing pilings turned out to be the least expensive and disruptive approach.

But even the forward-looking aspects of Thursday’s announcement could not entirely squelch an innate caution after years of public missteps.

“We set out milestones,” Mr. Ward said. “Now we can be held accountable. There are risks we’ll have to manage.”


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