World Trade Center Owner Scraps Rebuilding Schedule

The World Trade Center's owner on Monday scrapped the schedule for the prolonged rebuilding of the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, saying nearly every project is delayed and over budget and that the latest estimates are unrealistic.

Christopher Ward, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, issued a report listing more than a dozen issues that have slowed rebuilding and have raised costs. These included an over-budget transit hub, the process of dismantling a condemned tower where another is going to be built and construction around a city subway line.

"The schedule and cost estimates of the rebuilding effort that have been communicated to the public are not realistic," Ward wrote Monday to Gov. David Paterson.

Ward said a committee of developers and government agencies would set new "clear and achievable timelines" by the end of September.

The report ordered by Paterson suggested that the earliest estimates just after the attacks for rebuilding ground zero were not truthful.

Ward called the estimates, most issued during Gov. George Pataki's administration, "emotional dates," and Paterson promised that in the future, "we will tell the truth every step of the way."

The deadlines for building the office towers, memorial and Sept. 11 museum, a transit hub, and performing arts center at ground zero have been changing almost since planning began. At one point, the plan called for the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower to be completed by 2006. Steel has just risen above street level for the tower, last estimated to open in 2013.

"Did we set aggressive timetables? Absolutely," Pataki spokesman David Catalfamo said Monday, adding that they were based on engineers' estimates at the time. "All the same people who are there now were there then."

Ward listed 15 issues affecting the rebuilding, which he said didn't become clear until full-scale construction began on most projects over the past three years.

A transit hub, featuring a winged dome designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, presents some of the greatest rebuilding obstacles because it affects office towers, the memorial and space for an arts center that surrounds it. Once budgeted at $2.2 billion, estimates have soared as high as $3.4 billion.

Ward said the Port Authority is working on several options to cut costs, including redesigning the dome so that its roof does not open and close as once designed.

He said no centralized command exists to oversee the rebuilding, which "has led to indecision that has resulted in significant schedule delays and cost escalation."

Ward proposed a committee to oversee new timelines that includes private developer Larry Silverstein — in charge of building three of five towers — the Port Authority, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. rebuilding agency, the mayor's office, the foundation building the memorial and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Two years ago, in the last year of Pataki's administration, the agency said it had expedited development at the site by renegotiating a 99-year lease with Silverstein and shifting responsibility for who would build what.

It set clear deadlines and penalties, including $300,000-a-day payments to Silverstein if the agency didn't deliver land on time. The agency has paid Silverstein over $14 million in penalties after missing those deadlines.