Volume 20, Number 36 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Feb. 1 - 7 , 2008

Downtown Express photos by Lorenzo Ciniglio

Workers secure the Survivors’ Stairway. The steps portion of the remnant will be incorporated into the W.T.C. memorial museum.

Shaping the World Trade Center’s pieces

By Julie Shapiro

When tourists and curious residents peer into the World Trade Center site from street level, they see a big dirt pit, studded with machinery, a jumble of puzzle pieces that don’t quite form a complete picture.

But below ground, in the midst of the roaring equipment and piles of rock, the future of the site is beginning to take shape. It is getting easier to see which cradles of bedrock will hold which future skyscrapers. The outlines of roads and underpasses are becoming clearer, dividing the mass of construction into segments familiar from bird’s-eye renderings.

And while the site sometimes appears quiet from street level, far more movement is visible belowground. The sectors crawl with activity, as hundreds of construction workers drive heavy machinery or sweep debris, working on the half-dozen major projects that will bring four skyscrapers, a train station, a memorial and a performing arts center to the site within several years.

“Today, those who live or work around the site — and tourists from around the world who visit it each day — can see that construction is progressing aggressively and the site is bustling with activity,” Anthony Shorris, executive director of Port Authority, said in a statement. “Cranes are constantly in motion, steel is going up and trucks are lined up each day moving concrete and materials on and off the site.”

The Port’s $16 billion investment will ultimately bring the equivalent of five Empire State buildings to the site, Shorris said.

“We expect our efforts will pay off in the next few years when the site once again becomes a center for economic activity and a hub for Downtown life,” he said.

Steve Coleman, a Port Authority spokesperson, took a Downtown Express reporter and photographer around the site on a recent morning, pointing out the progress.

New PATH entrance The newest — and the final — temporary entrance to the PATH station is rapidly taking shape and is on schedule to open in several weeks. The Port Authority has to close the current temporary entrance on Church St. to complete the excavation for the final Santiago Calatrava-designed station.

The PATH entrance will move to Vesey St., where a tall bank of eight escalators is taking shape to convey commuters from the underground terminal to street level. During the visit, the escalator steps were in place for the most part, but the handrails were missing and the open sides gave views of the belts and internal machinery.

To the side of the escalators, construction workers were pouring concrete slabs that would connect the new entrance to the current PATH station. When the Calatrava station opens in 2011 under the current schedule, this temporary entrance, like the two that came before it, will be demolished. The final station will have entrances on Greenwich and Church Sts.

Survivors’ Stairway In the midst of bright, noisy machinery and striding workers in neon vests stands a remnant of the past: the Survivors’ Stairway, which served as an escape route to Vesey St. on 9/11. The staircase, of crumbling white stone, is embedded in a large block that once housed an adjacent escalator.

All around and beneath the staircase, workers are building steel supports to prepare the stairs to be moved. The staircase will then sit on the site near Vesey St. temporarily, until it is lowered into the memorial museum, where it will be on display. The bottom two-thirds of the steps are missing chunks and look battered and ancient — as if the construction workers uncovered them in an archeological dig — while the top steps look eerily new and polished. The stairs survived 9/11, but were damaged during the recovery and cleanup operation in the months that followed.

The support work to preserve the stairs and move them to temporary storage, done by contractor J.H. Reid, will cost the Port about $1 million, Coleman said.

Tower sites The Tower 4 site, at the corner of Church and Liberty Sts., is one of the calmest sectors, as the space holds its breath between excavation and construction. Port Authority has finished digging out the site — the rock floor is 80 feet below street level — and on a recent morning, several men in cherry pickers were inspecting the tiebacks in the slurry wall, which protects the site from floods. The Port will soon turn the site over to Silverstein Properties, which will build the tower.

Just to the north, a frenzy of work continued at the Tower 3 site, where enormous jackhammers called hoe rams pounded into bedrock. The penetrating thuds have been a source of complaints from nearby residents when Port Authority’s work went around the clock, but since a new noise plan went into effect, several residents said the noisiest work has stopped by midnight.

Much of the Tower 3 site is excavated to the required 80 feet, though the northern chunk still has more to go. As the hoe rams recently blasted the bedrock into manageable chunks, backhoes swooped in to convey the boulders into trucks, which carted the rock off the site.

The Port has paid a $300,000-a-day penalty to Silverstein since Jan. 1, when it was supposed to turn over the sites for Towers 3 and 4. The Tower 3 is expected to take at least a few more weeks to be ready for construction.

Tower 2, in the northeast corner of the site, looked the way the other tower sites looked several months ago. Backhoes scooped dirt out, waiting to hit bedrock. The deadline for the Tower 2 site to be turned over to Silverstein is June 30.

Freedom Tower Steel beams mark the boundaries and progress of the Freedom Tower in the northwest corner of the site. A lone white beam, inscribed “Freedom Tower,” which was ceremoniously lowered into the pit several years ago, is still visible — but only partly. As the building grows, concrete is filling in around the beam and now eclipses about half of the vertical inscription.

Most of the work at the Freedom Tower is happening in the center of the building, the concrete core that will house the elevators. Port Authority is building the core up first, and then the steel will follow, bringing the work above street level by the end of the year. At 1,776 feet, the Freedom Tower will dwarf surrounding buildings and stand tallest in the world.

Atmosphere Construction workers throughout the site looked busy, though a few took time to joke with a Downtown Express reporter. They were also concerned that the reporter and photographer were not wearing the mandated safety goggles. Signs throughout the site reminded workers to prioritize safety, and with trucks flying along gravel paths and a level of noise that sometimes made speaking difficult, the concern seemed prudent. One sign warned workers to make eye contact with the foreman before proceeding.

Nearly all the evidence of 9/11 has been carted away. In fact, the 16-acre site, but for its scope and sprawl, could almost be a construction site anywhere. However, relics of the past pop up in surprising ways. A memorial plaque sat on the ground outside a trailer that hosts relatives of the attack victims. And on a construction worker’s hardhat, above his set mouth and dark eyes, was a white sticker: “I didn’t forgive. I don’t forget.”

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