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WTC Progress Detailed in State Hearing

Tribeca Trib

To the casual observer, progress on the immensely complex reconstruction of the World Trade Center site may seem too slow to track. But major players in the site's development promised last month that work on many fronts is moving steadily forward.

On hand for a Jan. 29 State Assembly hearing were the chief executives of the agencies and companies responsible for rebuilding the 16-acre site, including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Silverstein Properties and the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Much of the dialogue during the hearing focused on recent progress by the Port Authority, which owns the land.  Eight of nine goals the Authority set for itself were met on schedule, including removing the access ramp from the site's southern end and completion of the Freedom Tower foundation.

But during the four-hour inquiry, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who convened the hearing, repeatedly pressed for independent oversight and review of all trade center operations. Such a review, he said, might restore public faith in a project plagued by false starts and missed deadlines.

While praising the Authority for its progress, Silver noted that the one goal it failed to accomplish-finishing excavation and turning over the sites for Towers 2, 3 and 4 to their developer, Silverstein Properties-may have a drastic impact on the pace and cost of construction.

Now half a year late in transferring the properties to Silverstein, the Authority has been forced to pay the developer $300,000 every day they remain undelivered-equivalent to the rent that Silverstein pays the Auhtority. Ward said he could not predict when work on the sites would be finished.

Asked if the work might continue through the end of 2009, Ward said it was the Authority's "major hope that it would not take that long."

Ward said the Authority could build temporary retail space on two of the sites if Silverstein decides, due to the economic downturn, to postpone construction of the mammoth office towers.

"The last thing the Port Authority wants to do is leave holes and pits in the ground Downtown," he said.

Recent Progress at the WTC Site


Between October and December of 2008, the Port
Authority has:

*Delivered final construction plans to contractors
*Procured structural steel for memorial museum
*Erected steel for the Transportation Hub's South
Mezzanine, allowing for the completion of the Memorial
Plaza over the PATH tracks
*Erected steelwork for outline of Memorial's North Pool and
portion of the museum
*Completed the Memorial pavilion structural design
*Begun south bathtub slurry wall
*Completed the Freedom Tower foundation
*Completed the elevator and stairway core for the south side
of the Freedom Tower

Final deconstruction of the Deutsche Bank Building due
to be completed by mid-October 2009. The latest on the
*Decontamination of 21 of the 26 floors still standing
*Near completion of decontamination of floors 4 and 5
*Beginning decontamination of floors 1 to 3 (completion)
expected end of 3/2009)
*Beginning removal of building facade from floors 16 to 26
(Completion is expected by May of this year.)

Progress by MTA crews on the Fulton Street Transit
Center includes:

*Completing the underground Dey Street Corridor
*Repaving and returning Dey Street to working order
*Completing the new 2/3 Train platform

According to Larry Silverstein, the 76-year-old president of Silverstein Properties, his firm had been meeting regularly with officials at the Port Authority during the summer about new timetables for the site, including construction of the Freedom Tower, the Path Transportation Hub and the Memorial Museum.

But those talks came to a sudden and unexplained halt in the beginning of September.

"The next thing we knew, dates were being developed without our participation," Silverstein said following his testimony. He said communication ended around Labor Day, when the Port Authority established new and more  realistic deadlines for the projects.

"I won't say that [the Authority is] shutting us out," Silverstein said, "I just don't see us being included."

Ward, who had said several times during his testimony that the Authority was working "closely" with Silverstein's company, had left the hearing room by the time the developer testified.

MTA chief executive Elliot Sander told the Assembly committee that $497 million of federal funding will be set aside for constructing the Fulton Street Transit Center pavilion. Sander said crews could start building the above-ground pavilion, formerly an unfunded lynchpin of the transit complex's reconstruction, as early as next year.

"I know that people have been worried that we were going to leave a hole in the ground or construct a simple subway entrance instead of the iconic structure that the community was expecting," Sander said. "This is not the case."

The MTA broke ground on the project in July of 2005, but escalat

ing construction costs stymied its progress at street level. The impact on neighboring businesses, Downtown Alliance president Elizabeth Berger said during the hearing, has been devastating.

"These [businesses] are tired of waiting for the transit amenities," Berger said. "They're tired of the construction, of the street closures, of the degraded pedestrian experience, and they're tired being told to manage their expectations."