Volume 21, Number 15 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | August 22 - 28, 2008

Wait for W.T.C. trains may be at least 8 years

By Julie Shapiro

The World Trade Center PATH hub will not open until 2016, according to a February 2007 engineering study, a portion of which was obtained by Downtown Express.

The study also pins the completion of Tower 3 at 2014 and Tower 2 at 2015 — two and three years later than Tower 4, which is located farther from the hub.

Since officials are now pushing to speed up the memorial timetable, 2016 may be in effect a bestcase scenario for the PATH station, said a source currently involved in the rebuilding process who spoke to Downtown Express on the condition of anonymity. “The dates could be even longer off,” he said, referring to projects adjacent to the memorial including the hub.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center commissioned the risk-based study to get a realistic set of completion dates for the World Trade Center projects. The study’s results slashed the Port Authority’s construction timeline, listing delays between several months and five years for every project.

News reports earlier this year revealed L.M.D.C. warnings of schedule delays in December 2007, but it has not been previously reported that the first warnings came ten months earlier, just as the Spitzer administration was taking over. The Daily News reported that based on a memo in December, the hub would open in 2014, not in 2016 — the year the rebuilding source now thinks may be too optimistic.

The Port Authority has never directly addressed the study’s findings, and Port officials continued repeating unrealistic dates to the public for more than a year after the study was completed.

When Gov. David Paterson asked Chris Ward, the Port’s new executive director, to examine the W.T.C. rebuilding schedule in June, Ward did his own study and came up with dates similar to the ones the L.M.D.C. had found early in 2007, a Downtown real estate source said.

“That’s when they realized, ‘We’ve got a big problem on our hands,’” the source said.

The L.M.D.C.’s 2007 study also says the Freedom Tower will not open until 2014 and the memorial museum will not open until 2015.

Ward is working with the World Trade Center stakeholders to prepare a new timetable, which he will release by Sept. 30. His goal is to bring the projects closer to their original schedules and budgets.

Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1, said she doesn’t have to look far to predict what the impact of the site’s delays will be.

“The impact is already there,” she said, referring to small businesses that are counting on foot traffic from the rebuilt W.T.C. “People’s faith and confidence in the neighborhood ends up being shaken.”

Steve Coleman, a spokesperson for the Port Authority, said this week that the 2007 study is more of a worst-case scenario than a timeline, and he declined to comment on whether the study’s dates are still realistic estimates.

“It would be premature to guesstimate on specific timetables [before Ward gives his report],” Coleman said. “That’s what [officials] did before — they guesstimated and then they had to redo them all.”

The biggest source of the delays is the fact that each project overlaps with others.

“Everything is tied in together,” said the source currently involved in the rebuilding. For example, construction on one project may require the Port Authority to use another part of the site as a staging area, preventing work from moving forward there.

When two projects conflicted, the 2007 study prioritized the project that was closer to completion.

Ward’s Steering Committee is looking at potential conflicts to decide on priorities for the site. The top priority, the Steering Committee decided, will be to open the permanent memorial, including the reflecting pools in the tower footprints, by the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, several sources said.

But Menin, who is also on the board of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, heard that the Port Authority was thinking of opening the memorial temporarily and then closing it, which she said was not acceptable.

“In this society, dates matter,” said Joe Daniels, president of the memorial organization. “They’re symbolic, but there’s meaning behind the symbolism…. We have three years to finish the building of the memorial. The bottom line is we should be able to do it.”

But Daniels won’t be able to open the memorial on time unless the Port Authority agrees to redesign a belowground portion of the PATH hub, he said.

The northeast corner of the memorial plaza sits atop the underground PATH station. Daniels needs the Port Authority to put the roof on that part of the PATH station by July 2010 if he is going to finish the tree-studded memorial by 9/11/11. The problem is that current designs for the underground PATH hall would require the roof to stay off for much longer, preventing Daniels from opening the plaza on time. Ward’s Steering Committee has to decide whether they want to redesign the PATH hall to allow the memorial work to happen earlier.

“That’s the most important decision we need to have made,” Daniels said.

If he wins that battle, his next challenge will be figuring out how to open the memorial in the midst of a construction site, without the infrastructure that the finished World Trade Center will have. The questions abound: How will pedestrians access the secure site? Where will tour buses drop off the millions of visitors expected and park? How will visitors be kept safe as five Empire State Buildings rise around them?

Daniels doesn’t know the final answers to these questions yet, but he said construction happens every day in this densely packed city, and while the challenges will take work to resolve, he said they are manageable. One possibility is creating a buffer zone between the memorial and the construction.

Once the memorial issues are resolved, the next thing on Daniels’s plate is getting the 9/11 memorial museum open. The L.M.D.C.’s 2007 report said the museum would not open until 2015, but Daniels is pushing for a 2012 opening date. He recognizes that that will require another slew of coordination decisions, which will be more complex because the memorial is underground.

Ward’s Steering Committee has met three times to weigh options for the W.T.C. site, and the project causing the most difficulty is Santiago Calatrava’s PATH hub, a Downtown real estate source said.

“People think of the above-grade oculus, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” the source said. “The whole PATH infrastructure is connected to every part of the site.”

The design by Calatrava, an artist, architect and engineer, is patterned after a bird in flight and was the most universally praised W.T.C. design when it was unveiled nearly five years ago.

The steel to build it will have to come from Spain, because no one in the United States can manufacture it, the source said. No two pieces of steel in the design are the same, so putting the pieces together is akin to “a giant jigsaw puzzle,” he said. That’s true of the below-ground parts in addition to the above-ground wings.

“A lot of what makes it beautiful is its uniqueness, which is fine if you’re building a sculpture, but tricky if you’re building a train station,” the source said. “The Port Authority is working around the clock to try to fix the problem.”

One of the key proposals in the L.M.D.C.’s 2007 report was to simplify the design for the PATH station, which would save money and allow other projects to move forward, the report says.

The design of the PATH station is also one of the 15 issues the Port has pledged to resolve by the end of September. Ward has already announced that Calatrava’s white wings will no longer open.

The complexities and delays predicted for the PATH station had a ripple effect on the surrounding projects in the L.M.D.C.’s 2007 study. The reason Towers 2 and 3 were delayed is because they abut the PATH hub, a Downtown real estate source said. Tower 4 faced only a year-long delay, to 2012, because it is farther from the PATH station, the source said.

Silverstein Properties and the L.M.D.C. declined to comment for this article.

The February 2007 study also noted a delay on the demolition of 130 Liberty St., the former Deutsche Bank building. The L.M.D.C. had promised the building would be down by the end of 2007, but the study lists April 2008 as the revised date. However, for months after the study was completed, the L.M.D.C. continued to publicly state that the building would be down by the end of 2007, despite growing skepticism of C.B. 1 members. A fire at the Deutsche Bank building in August 2007 killed two firefighters and delayed the demolition goal to the middle of 2009.

With all the discussion about future deadlines, there’s one looming over the Port Authority right now — and an expensive one at that.

The Port Authority was supposed to turn the excavated site for Tower 2 over to Silverstein Properties by July 1, and the Port has been paying Silverstein a $300,000-a-day penalty since then. The Port has since said they would complete the excavation work by the end of August, but now the clock is ticking down on that revised deadline as well.

“We’re working to meet the deadline,” Coleman, the Port spokesperson, said Wednesday. He would not say whether the Sunday deadline was realistic.

Ward, the Port’s executive director, has said that he would use previous studies of the World Trade Center site’s timetable to inform his work this summer. He apparently has already taken one of the February 2007 study’s recommendations to heart: The study recommends creating a group of project stakeholders, led by the Port Authority, to make decisions about the site. The Steering Committee Ward announced last June is just that, though Ward declined to say then who was in charge of it.

The “committee of stakeholders” structure is very different from the chain of command back when Guy Tozzoli was running the show in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

Tozzoli, now 86, was director of the Port’s World Trade Department, charged with planning, designing, building, renting and operating the World Trade Center.

“When I was in charge, I was in charge of everything,” Tozzoli told Downtown Express this week. “It was easy — I was the guy they came to.”

People familiar with the Steering Committee’s work this summer agreed that the Calatrava hub will face some design changes, but Ward appeared to be hinting that even more drastic changes were on the horizon during a speech at 7 W.T.C. two weeks ago. Although the speech focused on continuing regional economic growth in an environmentally friendly way, Ward closed by mentioning renowned architect Cass Gilbert — perhaps the Santiago Calatrava of nearly a century ago.

Ward showed a rendering of Gilbert’s original and never-built 1926 drawings of the George Washington Bridge with majestic stone arches. Then he showed a picture of the present-day bridge, which was designed by engineer Othmar Ammann. When the bridge opened in 1931 it was derided as “less than first class” and an embarrassing version of what could have been, Ward said, but today, the bridge’s design is considered an architectural marvel.

He said the lesson is that even within budgets, “we can still build greatness.”

With reporting
by Josh Rogers




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