The reborn World Trade Center will begin rising above street level this spring - when the Freedom Tower's steel frame emerges from its 80-foot-deep construction pit, officials say.
The tower itself is now just 10 feet from street level, Port Authority Executive Director Anthony Shorris said.
"We expect it to reach past street level in a few months," he said.
Shorris and Ground Zero developer Larry Silverstein, who is building three office towers at the site, said virtually every project at the World Trade Center is now under construction after years of cleanup, design and site preparation.
A time-lapse rendering of the 16-acre site prepared by the Port Authority shows the project coming together over the next five years like a massive jigsaw puzzle, with more than 10,000 construction workers assembling the pieces.
By the end of this year, the Freedom Tower's steel will be racing skyward, while a steel base for the memorial is being set in place. And foundations for Silverstein's three towers and the Santiago Calatrava-designed transit hub will be under construction.
By the end of 2010, the Freedom Tower and Silverstein's Towers 2 and 3 will reach rooftop level, and the memorial plaza will be complete and ready for the planting of more than 400 trees.
Silverstein's Tower 2, the second tallest at the site, will have topped out by the end of 2011.
"By the end of 2012, as they say, it'll all be over but the shouting," Shorris said at a New York Building Congress luncheon last week.
"What is falling into place is a construction-coordination machine of truly unprecedented complexity."
The four towers inside the perimeter of the original World Trade Center site will include 141,000 tons of steel and 593,000 cubic yards of concrete.
A fifth tower is planned a block away on the site of the former Deutsche Bank building. That tower is slated to be complete by the end of 2012.
Just to clear sites for Silverstein's three towers, the Port Authority excavated and hauled out enough dirt and rock to fill Giants Stadium.
Silverstein, who acknowledged that "things haven't always gone as smoothly or as swiftly as everyone - including me - had hoped," predicted that the final outcome in five years will create a new economic engine in lower Manhattan.
But Silverstein said the proof of progress for New Yorkers made skeptical by delays and missed deadlines will be the visible construction now shaping up.
"There has not been this much going on at the site since the cleanup concluded close to six years ago," he said.