Construction Delays Likely At WTC Site

brown 31 02 wtc Construction Delays Likely At WTC SiteConstruction of various projects at the World Trade Center site, including the Freedom Tower and the September 11 Memorial, could be delayed as the Paterson administration reexamines the shifting reality of the site’s construction budgets and timetables that were set by the Pataki administration.

Christopher Ward, the new executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the site’s landlord, is moving forward with an analysis of construction completion dates and other issues. He plans to publicly address the situation as soon as the next few weeks.

As he does so, numerous people involved with redevelopment downtown say delays are widely expected for multiple projects, including the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, the PATH station that features a Santiago Calatrava-designed oculus, and perhaps the Freedom Tower. In the past few years, officials have been working with unrealistic dates, people involved said, as the complexities of the site were never fully understood before the timetables were set.

A government-commissioned assessment found that the interior museum portion of the memorial may not be ready until 2013 or 2014, pushed back from the most recent target of 2011, the people involved with the redevelopment said. The PATH station, once expected to cost $2.2 billion, is the furthest behind schedule and overbudget, with completion not expected until at least 2013, up from 2009. Utilities connecting to all the site are behind schedule, and the Freedom Tower is thought to be closer to the target date of 2012 than any of the other projects, though its completion date may now be at least 2013.

The decision to reevaluate the dates set by the Pataki administration represents a turnaround from the Spitzer administration, which was aware of the site’s challenges but chose generally to publicly keep the target dates as opposed to blaming departed officials for delays and then setting a new schedule.

A former state official said the rationale at the time was that more conservative targets would have had a deterministic effect, resulting in an overall later completion of the whole site. Had the Spitzer administration set new dates, it felt, the contractors would have had no incentive to finish the jobs any earlier than the new targets. But by choosing to keep the less realistic dates, officials hoped to push the contractors to come at least somewhat close to hitting those original marks.

That stance drew internal fire in the Spitzer administration from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, said people familiar with discussions, though the Port Authority maintained the approach.

Now there’s new leadership in Albany and at the Port Authority—Mr. Ward was sworn in as executive director in May—and the unrealistic target dates are drawing nearer with the projects’ completions still far away.

“The Port Authority was asked to take the lead in rebuilding in late 2006, and the site went from a complete stop on construction to a sprint,” said a Port Authority spokesman, Stephen Sigmund. With a new director, “it’s totally appropriate for him to want to—and for the board and our governors to want him to—do a full assessment of the projects to make sure they’re moving forward accountably and with achievable timelines and budgets.”

 

THE WORLD TRADE CENTER site is one of tremendous complexity, and timetables for the various projects were set at a point when officials had not yet done the requisite work to determine whether the firm dates were actually attainable, said multiple people familiar with the rebuilding effort. The Pataki administration had already pushed date after date—the Freedom Tower and the PATH station were once scheduled to have opened by now—and at the time when the recent completion dates were set, Governor Pataki was pondering a run for president, with the revitalization of Lower Manhattan poised to be a major issue.

As Mr. Pataki was leaving office, the city-/state-controlled Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center brought in a host of outside consultants to make an independent risk assessment that looked at the various projects at the site, considering their target completion dates and potential impediments. The result, a closely held report, painted a picture of an uncoordinated mess at ground zero, with innumerable obstacles to target timelines and budgets, people familiar with the report said. Each of the projects on the site was found to be acting as if it were on a site of its own, with a notable and substantial lack of coordination, a structure that lends itself to setbacks.