Construction Delays Likely At WTC Site

The expected delays now come in part as a result of the interconnected nature of construction, as changes or unanticipated actions at one project affect numerous other operations on the Rubik’s Cube-like site.

Four towers over 900 feet tall are being constructed simultaneously over a relatively small footprint with little space for staging; the Port Authority needs to construct a vehicle security center that cannot be built until the former Deutsche Bank tower is demolished; the memorial may have trouble functioning without the completion of an underground parking garage beneath developer Larry Silverstein’s towers; PATH and subway trains must run continuously; the office towers cannot function until common utility infrastructure is built on the site, a program well behind schedule; and the box that holds the No. 1 subway line must be reinforced and supported before any work through much of the site can move forward—a task that was not initially anticipated with the level of complexity required, people familiar with the site said.

In the case of the memorial and the museum, much of the interior work is dependent upon the completion of the adjacent PATH hub, which in turn is undergoing revisions in an attempt to cut costs. The target completion is now set for the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, but the LMCCC report from last year found that the interior museum portion is unlikely to be completed before 2013, according to people familiar with the findings.

The biggest delays and overruns at the site are at the PATH hub, a $2.2 billion project that was given a budget and timeline well before anyone grasped its intricacies, officials say. First, the entire temporary PATH station on the eastern edge of the site must be completely removed and excavated down to the bedrock before any work can begin. Then the structure must be built with an intricate network of mechanical and technical infrastructure, parking, retail, a spacious concourse, and a pricey above-ground winged, spiky structure.

Fitting all of that into the $2.2 billion budget is considered a total impossibility; as of April, the Port Authority was set on holding the costs to $2.5 billion, a number that includes a $300 million contingency fund from the Federal Transit Administration, though that position also may change.

As for timel
ines, a December risk assessment from the F.T.A. found that the project has a 50-50 chance of being finished by June 2013.

The Freedom Tower is considered in more stable shape financially than the PATH station, as the bulk of the construction contracts have already been bid upon and awarded. People familiar with the construction said it stands to be at least six months behind schedule, pushing into 2013 at least.

As for the other projects at the site, those involved in the rebuilding generally considered the delivery dates for Mr. Silverstein’s Towers 2, 3 and 4—in 2012—to be relatively realistic; however, they, too, are very dependent on the progress elsewhere. The towers are all to get electricity and other utilities, for instance, from a central infrastructure to be built by the Port Authority.

Mr. Silverstein recently was given an extra four to six months to complete two of the towers, as he is negotiating to potentially bring Merrill Lynch to a redesigned Tower 3.

Then there is the Performing Arts Center, a Frank Gehry-designed building planned to go on the northern edge of the site. The hundreds of millions in necessary funding for the center is virtually nonexistent right now, and construction would have to wait at least four or five years, people familiar with the site say. The state and city are also still considering a proposal to move it above the troubled Fulton Street Transit Center a few blocks to the east.

Two other buildings, Fiterman Hall to the north of the site and the former Deutsche Bank building to the south, still remain damaged and are awaiting deconstruction. The state is working on bringing down the Deutschetower, at 130 Liberty Street, by first decontaminating it, but the demolition of CUNY’s Fiterman Hall is held up as the city and state have a dispute over funding.

“One-thirty liberty has to come down; Fiterman Hall has to come down,” said Elizabeth Berger, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York, the major business group in Lower Manhattan. “I can’t believe that we will have the seventh anniversary of 9/11, and they will still be up.”

With regard to construction at the World Trade Center site, Ms. Berger expressed confidence in the effort to set new, realistic dates, as construction is indeed moving forward.

“What’s important are real timetables, real schedules, and meeting them, and action now,” she said. “There is progress, we’re excited about that. It can’t stop; it’s got to keep going.”

ebrown@observer.com