THE PORT AUTHORITY OF NY & NJ

Press Release Article


REMARKS BY PORT AUTHORITY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR CHRISTOPHER O. WARD ON THE WORLD TRADE CENTER ASSESSMENT

Date: Jul 01, 2008
Press Release Number: 68-2008

Downtown Alliance

July 1, 2008

Good Morning.

Let me just start by thanking the Downtown Alliance for welcoming me here. Bob Douglass, you said I would be here at some point and I thank you for that and for your unwavering leadership for downtown. Liz Berger, who has known me long enough to know how incredible it is that I have the privilege to stand before you today. Thank you for all you have done and more importantly what you will get done in the months and years ahead. I also want to recognize Speaker Silver, who’s with us here today. Speaker, you have been a tireless champion of Lower Manhattan and a thoughtful, candid and effective partner throughout this process. As the new Executive Director of the Port Authority, I very much look forward to working with you on the challenge before us.

Let me also pay tribute to all of the key stakeholders who I have worked with over the last month that has led to this assessment.

Perhaps for the first time in the history of the rebuilding effort, all of the key stakeholders at the World Trade Center site worked collaboratively with the goal of producing an accurate and current picture of where we are and where we need to go. They opened up their books, shared information, communicated their concerns and – most importantly – asked fundamental questions that largely had gone unanswered in the haste to rebuild. I want to particularly thank the Mayor, Deputy Mayor Bob Lieber and his staff, the leadership of the Memorial, LMDC, MTA, FTA, Silverstein Properties, and, of course, Governor Paterson, Governor Corzine and Port Authority Chairman Tony Coscia and the entire Port Authority Board of Commissioners for empowering me to make the kind of clear-eyed assessment this World Trade Center program has needed for some time.

As I look around the room, and see so many colleagues and friends, I realize that we have all lived and worked in this incredible city and yet in many respects, we are actually part of a very small world that knows each other, not within the context of a global economy, but more simply in the context of what we all know to be a very good town.

Since I do know so many of you and in the interest of candor, let me be completely clear right at the beginning:

On June 11th, Governor Paterson asked me for a candid and transparent assessment of the rebuilding effort at the World Trade Center site. Like you, he wanted to understand just what was the state of downtown. As the new Executive Director of the Port Authority, I had the same question. Nineteen days later, here’s what I found:

The dates and costs of the World Trade Center projects that the public has been told are not realistic. We are not going to make any of them.

But it would be irresponsible to set new dates or new budgets before first addressing their fundamental drivers. This is what stands out most in this assessment.

Our report details 15 fundamental issues that drive both schedule and cost that have yet to be resolved. Until we can resolve these issues, another neatly wrapped package of dates and budgets would be just as unrealistic as the last bunch.

So we are not going down that path again. Instead, this report marks a new way of doing business at the Port Authority, a new way of doing business among all of the stakeholders at the World Trade Center site and; most importantly, a new way of doing business for how we manage this complex project – something the Port Authority Board of Commissioners has been pushing for some time.

Because it’s no longer a question of if all of these projects will get built. Nothing in my assessment leads me to believe that any of these projects won’t be completed as promised. The questions are when and for how much. That is where this new way of doing business comes in.

What we now face is the most complex and difficult construction job you can imagine.

That is why I am here – to tell you just that. It is a construction job now. The politics are over. Working together with all of our partners, we now simply need to get it done. Execute. Build. Will there be tough choices and trade-offs? Yes. But we can’t wait any longer because they’re not going away.

So here is what we know and what we don’t know.

I can tell you today that we know significant progress has been made on every major project on the site since 2006. In fact, it is a completely different site today than it was then. In early 2006, the site was at a virtual standstill. Today, more than 700 workers have turned a standstill into a bourgeoning construction site. Everyone who made that real should be enormously proud of that accomplishment.

But, as I said upfront, we also know that the schedule and costs of the rebuilding effort are not realistic. Unfortunately, far too often those dates and budgets have been driven by emotional and political needs instead of a clear-eyed sense of how you actually build such a vision.

There have been numerous studies and analyses which have already made clear what I just spelled out, but at this point in time, they are not my issue. My issue is to take this project, with all its complexities and stakeholders, and bring to it a focus of control and constructability, driving each and every design and engineering decision, every construction challenge to completion and every building to their topping off. That is our model and that is our goal.

Working together with all of our partners, we will approach this project with a clear sense of mission. We will look at a range of mitigation options to build these projects smarter, faster and for less money. We will peel back budgets to generate cost savings; and we will question assumptions as just those: assumptions. And all of this will be done with a renewed sense of urgency that our town demands.

Most of all, I can tell you that there will be a strong, streamlined and inclusive process for making those decisions and reaching the best possible timetable for rebuilding and mitigating the costs while doing it.

Having said all of that, as I look across this room, I see a lot of skeptical looks. I don't blame you for being skeptical. But skepticism never built a thing. I know because I have been involved with many projects the skeptics know too well.

In my first tenure at the Port Authority, together we built the AirTrain system to JFK. Many said this project would never be built. It was too costly, too challenging and faced too much local opposition.

We proved them wrong. We overcame challenges and embraced community concerns. Today, the AirTrain system provides a critical mass transit link for millions of riders who travel to and from the airport each year.

As Managing Director of The General Contractors Association of New York, I got to know firsthand the nitty gritty world of construction. Day in and day out contractors are rebuilding the very fabric of our City – from subways, airports, bridges, and water tunnels. The labor negotiations I was involved in gave me a keen appreciation on just how skilled and dedicated our union force is and you see them now working almost around the clock blasting rock, rising steel and building every part of that job.

Finally, there was the siting and ongoing construction of the Croton Filter Plant – a project I am enormously proud of. It was the right thing to do. It is the right place to build it. And in the end, New Yorkers who rely on fresh safe drinking water will be far better for it. But not without its challenges and controversies. Or its skeptics.

There is no question that the World Trade Center project is perhaps the most challenging rebuilding effort in this City’s history, and the biggest challenge ever faced in the 87-year history of the Port Authority.

While I am not naive when it comes to the challenges that lie ahead, I know we have several factors in our favor.

We have strong support from Governor Paterson, Governor Corzine and Mayo