Port Authority: WTC Redevelopment to Cost at Least $17B, Freedom Tower Delayed

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey issued a 70-page report today detailing more realistic costs and timetables for redevelopment of the 16-acre World Trade Center site while at the same time acknowledging that it is now expected to cost at least $17 billion for the entire build out–more than $1.7 billion than originally estimated. The report was presented at today’s Port Authority Board of Commissioners meeting.

Port Authority Chairman Anthony Coscia said in a statement released after the meeting that the report “builds on previous efforts by the Port Authority to conduct our business with transparency and accountability to the public we serve.” Executive director Christopher Ward added in the same release that the report “allows us to say what we’re building, who’s building it, when it will be built and for how much. By working with our project partners to resolve all 15 fundamental issues, we’ve brought a level of certainty and control that this rebuilding effort has been missing for too long.”

But Barry LePatner, an attorney and specialist on construction cost management, told CPN today, “there are more questions being raised by this current report than are being answered and an unsuspecting public and unsuspecting group of politicians have every right to be skeptical for projections of completion dates or costs.” He noted that the original project estimates were unrealistic.“The original timetables and revised timetables were thrown out to assuage a public that thought a series of projects that make up Ground Zero should be produced within a few short years.”

LePatner said the Port Authority understands transportation but not construction. “What is clear is that the Port Authority does not have any extensive experience in doing complex projects like that. They never should have put on themselves the responsibility for project managing the entire project.”

Elizabeth Berger, president of the Downtown Alliance, disagreed that the new timetables were unrealistic. “Today’s Port Authority report is a welcome new roadmap for rebuilding the World Trade Center site,” she said in a prepared statement this afternoon. Berger said that Ward and his team “have taken a direct and practical approach and, after several months of analysis, have proposed what they believe is an achievable timetable, starting with the Memorial but including many key project elements.”

The Freedom Tower, the 1,776-foot tall centerpiece office building, is now projected to cost $3.1 billion rather than the $2.9 billion estimated back in November 2006 when the Port Authority took control of the skyscraper from developer Larry Silverstein. Its completion date has been pushed back to the second quarter of 2013, about six months later than originally expected. The Port Authority report noted that there has been at least a 25 percent increase in construction and commodity costs since late 2006, representing about $93 million of the tower’s overall increase. The report comes in response to New York Gov. David Paterson’s request in late June for a re-evaluation of all the Ground Zero construction projects. Ward noted today that the original schedules and budgets were unrealistic because of the complex challenges of the massive redevelopment and various construction projects.

“Had the rebuilding program gone without a hitch, those dates and costs could never have been met because they were established at a time before the construction reality on the ground was fully understood and before the designs of most of the projects were completed,” he stated in the report. Ward also noted that it became increasingly clear that nearly all of the construction projects are interdependent. Comparing it to the children’s game of pick-up sticks, he said, “if you move one stick, it is nearly impossible not to move all the others,” adding that delays and challenges with one component “can have ripple effects on all other projects, further complicating construction.”

The Port Authority has established the new Office of Program Logistics to manage the complex construction logistics on and around Ground Zero. Ward said the agency has also made the WTC Steering Committee, a centralized decision-making entity, permanent. As reported Sept. 30 by CPN, reports has surfaced that the planned transit hub was over budget and several years late. Today’s report estimates the cost of the transit hub will be $3.2 billion, compared to the original $2 billion and a more recent estimate of $2.5 billion. The transit hub, now expected to open by the second quarter of 2014, would replace the PATH station that was destroyed in the Sept. 11 attacks and a temporary station opened five years ago. It will also have retail space.

Ward said the Port Authority has worked with Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to simplify his design, including eliminating roof wings that were supposed to open and close. The original design of the transit center would have pushed back construction on the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and it would not have been ready in time for the 10 year anniversary of the terrorist attacks. A new deckover construction with additional columns will allow the area set aside for the memorial to be used on Sept. 11, 2011.

The report cites the third quarter of 2011, before 9/11, as one of the important construction milestones. The plaza floor of the memorial will be complete and two signature waterfalls will be installed along with parapets where the names of those killed in the attacks will be inscribed. There will also be some landscaping and early-stage construction of the Museum Visitors’ Center. Ward notes, though, that construction will be peaking at that time on the entire site and that the area will still very much be a construction zone. He also added that making sure the Memorial Plaza is ready by the anniversary will add another $75 billion to the cost.

The good news is that the redesign should enable subway improvements and construction on the Greenwich Street projects to be completed sooner. Cost of developing the Vehicle Security Center, which will be a key access point for all vehicles entering the site, has also increased significantly from $478 million to $633 million. It should be completed by the third quarter of 2012, about six months later than its initial target date.