Chris Ward was named Executive Director of the Port Authority in May 2008. It is his second tenure at the bistate agency, having previously served from 1997 to 2002 as Chief of Planning and External Affairs and Port Redevelopment.
Shortly after beginning his new position, Mr. Ward initiated an in-depth review of the World Trade Center rebuilding, at the request of New York Governor David Paterson, to develop a clear roadmap for the future of the project and a greater level of accountability and transparency.
During our initial "Ask the Port Authority" feature, we've received nearly 100 questions for Mr. Ward, many of which covered similar topics. In cases where multiple questions came in on similar topics, Mr. Ward has answered one.
Q. Why is it taking this long to complete the construction on this site? Is there a good valid reason that can be explained logically? When is this tower going to stand? Is there a plan to just leave the site vacant? Zev, Monsey, N.Y.
A. When I took over as executive director of the Port Authority five months ago, both Governor Paterson and I asked the same question. We too wanted a realistic timetable with interim milestones so the public could track our progress along the way. That's why the first thing I did as executive director was initiate a top-to-bottom assessment of the rebuilding effort.
During that assessment, we found 15 unresolved issues that were critical to getting the project on track. Thanks to a lot of work over the summer and a lot of coordination with key stakeholders like the Mayor's Office, the Memorial Foundation, Silverstein Properties, the Federal Transit Administration, LMDC, NYSDOT and others, we were able to resolve all of these issues. (A list of these issues and their resolution can be found on this Web site under Progress. That section also includes a timeline for when each major project will be completed.)
As a result, while we still face many challenges going forward, we've created a level of certainty and control that's been missing from the rebuilding since its inception.
Having said that, the answer to your question can't be complete without putting this project in perspective. When you think about how long it's taking to rebuild the site, remember how much we're in fact building down there. On just 16 acres of land, we're building:
- Five major skyscrapers, which will house Class A office space comparable to all of downtown Atlanta;
- One of the world's most significant memorials and museums;
- The third-largest transportation hub in New York City;
- A world-class retail venue serving all of Lower Manhattan;
- A major performing arts center;
- A state-of-the-art vehicle security center;
- Two brand-new city streets (Greenwich and Fulton) and two brand-new pedestrian ways (Cortlandt and Dey); and,
- All of the critical infrastructure to support these projects (chiller plant, utility and communication networks, etc).
And all of this is happening within the confines of a transportation corridor that moves 150,000 commuters a day through an active construction site via the MTA #1 subway line, which literally cuts through the center of the site, and the WTC PATH trains, which run beneath the site.
Add to this challenge the fact that there are 19 public agencies, two private developers, 101 different contractors and sub-contractors and 33 different designers, architects and consulting firms all in charge of one element of the project or another, and you have a construction challenge that is as complex as any in the world.
Q. Why not rebuild the Twin Towers? Jonathan, Columbus, Ohio
A. When our staff began the WTC Assessment process this past spring at Governor Paterson's request, they conducted a thorough, top-down review of everything that's transpired on the site and explored what we could and couldn't do to get this rebuilding back on track. One of the things they looked at was the possibility of changing what's already been planned for the site, but found that to go back to the drawing board now simply wouldn't be a viable option. Here's why:
If we were to start from scratch and develop a plan that called for rebuilding the Twin Towers, billions of dollars that already have been spent on design and engineering work, as well as hundreds of construction trade contracts, for all of the projects would be wasted. At a time when we are trying to move forward with construction and get this site rebuilt, all with funding that's currently available, it wouldn't be prudent to start the process all over again. That would lead to wasted money and would add years on to the ultimate completion of the site.
Q. The traffic around the WTC is awful, specifically on West Street. Are those traffic diversions the result of WTC work or other construction projects? Michael, Staten Island, N.Y.
A. We're very aware of the traffic issues on Route 9A/West Street (the Westside Highway) caused by World Trade Center construction and from the New York State Department of Transportation's ongoing efforts to realign Route 9A. Unfortunately, the traffic is a byproduct of what happens when you build one of the biggest and most complex development projects in one of the most congested areas of the City. The West Street challenge you raise is a result of the need to rebuild the Westside Highway after the terrorist attacks on September 11th destroyed it. Complicating that rebuilding effort and adding to the traffic challenge is the need to coordinate that work with everything that's going on across the street at the World Trade Center site. For example, we're currently building an underground passageway under Route 9A that will link the World Trade Center Transportation Hub to the World Financial Center, as well as building out all of the sewer and electric lines under the street that will serve the new World Trade Center, which requires some traffic lanes to be shifted to accommodate the work.
Yet while traffic won't go away anytime soon, we're doing everything we can to minimize it. To address these issues, we created a new Office of Program Logistics, which is working with NYC Department of Transportation and NYS Department of Transportation on traffic mitigation planning going forward.
Q. When will the old/new PATH Station entrance reopen? Donna, Westfield, N.J.
A. Our goal is to complete the permanent Transportation Hub, which will house the new PATH Station, by early 2014. A full list of construction milestones for the Hub can be found on this Web site in the Progress and Vision sections.
Q. Is it true that the Port Authority plans on shutting down PATH service to and from the World Trade Center PATH Station for most weekends, starting next summer, for two years? If so, does the PA plan to add additional trains to and from 33rd Street or add ferry service between Exchange Place and Lower Manhattan, given the loss of PATH service to the World Trade Center? What will be done to accommodate people like me who need to get into Lower Manhattan from New Jersey on weekends for their jobs? Scott, Jersey City, N.J.
A. In order to ensure the safety of PATH riders and speed up construction on the site, we will need to use closures on certain weekends starting in 2009. While we don't have a precise date yet for when these outages will start (we will update our Web site when we know), the Port Authority will work closely with its regional partners to provide alternate transportation options for riders.
Q. What is taking so long? All over the country there are Memorials dedicated to the people we lost, and here where it happened we see nothing. As a New York City firefighter for 24 years, this does not sit well. If they had given this task to a dozen FDNY firefighters, I think the job would now be complete. Please cut through the red tape and get this job done, for the eyes of the country are upon all of us. Terrance Horn, Broad Channel, N.Y.
A. We're cutting that tape as fast as we can and we understand the urgency to rebuild. This agency lost 84 of its very best on September 11th and we have every incentive to move as fast as possible. That's why, as I said before, the first thing I did when I became executive director was to do a top-to-bottom assessment for how we could get the rebuilding on track. Specifically as it relates to the Memorial, the result of this process led to greater certainty that we could complete the Memorial Plaza by the tenth anniversary of September 11th, two or three years before our previous estimates showed. We will continue working closely with the Memorial Foundation and the City of New York to complete this Memorial as fast as possible.
Q. Is it true that Vesey Street will be closed to pedestrians between Church Street and West Broadway? Tom, New York, N.Y.
A. Yes. As we've been saying for the last several months, eventually, we will have to close that section of Vesey Street for a temporary period of time while we complete work on the various projects near that street, including One World Trade Center, the WTC Transportation Hub, and Towers 2, 3 and 4.
As I said before, the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site is perhaps the biggest construction project ever undertaken in such a dense, urban environment. Unfortunately, for construction to move forward at a faster pace, we need to close streets to accommodate the work and to protect pedestrians moving around the site. However, before we close any streets, our new Office of Program Logistics will implement a mitigation plan to ensure that pedestrians are rerouted in the most efficient way possible.
Q. Has the bickering ended between the rival interests? It has taken too long to get this site rebuilt. America just elected an African American president and New York City hasn't yet seen significant development on the WTC site. I think it's an embarrassment. When will we see the new buildings rising into the sky again? Marie, New York, N.Y.
A. What most people don't realize is that we are in charge of coordinating 19 public agencies, 101 different construction contractors and subcontractors and 33 different designers, architects and consulting firms who are all stakeholders in the rebuilding. There's no doubt that we have our reasonable differences from time to time, but I can assure you that we all share the same overarching goal of getting this site rebuilt as quickly as possible.
The recent assessment we conducted exemplified the new way of business we hope we have brought to this effort. For the first time, all stakeholders on the site 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. The WTC Assessment that resulted – which can be found on this Web site in the Progress section – captures the results of this collaborative process and, because of this process, I believe we have a level of certainty and control over this project that we did not have before.
Q. When will the rebuilding process be complete and where can I see pictures of what to expect? Evan, Washington, D.C.
A. The projects being built by the Port Authority – One World Trade Center, World Trade Center Transportation Hub, Memorial, Greenwich Street, and the Vehicle Security Center – should all be completed between 2011 and 2104. Renderings of the completed projects, as well as frequently updated construction photos and specific completion states and interim milestones, can be found on this Web site.
Q. Why did the Port Authority decide to build all office buildings on the site instead of apartments, shopping centers, theaters, supermarkets, etc. and some office space? In other words, out of the tragedy came an opportunity to make a major part of Lower Manhattan more vibrant and livable. There is enough potential to build office buildings east of Broadway around Fulton, John and Nassau streets for the next 100 years. Especially given the current financial problems on Wall Street. Wouldn't this have been more successful and profitable, to say nothing of the real contribution it would have been to Lower Manhattan as well as a memorial to the victims? John, Great Neck, N.Y.
A. The second-guessing is only natural, especially in light of the challenging economic circumstances we find ourselves today. But the reality is, we cannot reverse the decision-making and investment of the past seven years. With projects already underway, billions of dollars already committed and foundations already built, it is impossible and impractical to turn back the clock and reimagine the World Trade Center landscape in radically different terms.
But during our assessment we did find were creative, innovative and practical solutions to major unresolved issues, creating a clear path toward meeting key milestones – like the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks and others critical to the commercial viability of the site – that we did not have before
And to your specific point about the importance of retail space, the Port Authority has committed to rebuilding approximately 500,000 square feet of retail on the site – larger than the retail contained in the Time Warner Center and representing the largest concentration of new retail space developed in New York in decades – which we believe will help reconnect it to the surrounding area and create a vibrant 24/7 neighborhood destination that those who live and work in the area believe is extremely important.
Q. I have been hearing that the World Trade Center will be totally completed by 2012. Is this true, and if it is, is it actually possible for it to be completed in such a short amount of time? Taquamm, Norfolk, VA.
A. I'm sure you and others around the country have heard various timelines for completion of the site over the years. That's exactly why we did our comprehensive assessment of the site – to give the public a sense of clarity on what's being built and when it will be completed. And, for the first time, we've set numerous interim milestones so you and others can track the progress of construction as we move forward. In answer to your question, we expect the Transportation Hub, the Memorial, One World Trade Center, and the Vehicle Security Center (all projects under the Port Authority's control) to be completed between 2011 and 2014. All of the dates and interim milestones can be found in the Progress section of this Web site.
Q. In any complex, multi-billion dollar construction project, there is a severe risk of contractor fraud. What specific measures are you implementing to proactively police against contractor fraud? JJ, New York, N.Y.
A. We wholeheartedly agree that the rebuilding, which includes hundreds of contractors and subcontractors, must be done above board. That's why we have our own Inspector General's Office that carefully reviews contractor work, billing and other issues on this and all Port Authority projects. In fact, our Inspector General's office was recently commended by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office for uncovering a case of fraud involving a contractor that had worked on the site back in 2006. On top of our own internal checks and balances, we've hired independent Integrity Monitors for each of the projects to further prevent contractor fraud on the site.
Q. On the Freedom Tower, when exactly will the steel erection occur. I read in your report that it will happen in the fourth quarter of 2009 but I want to know how much work has to be done before the steel erection can begin on the superstructure? John, Brooklyn, N.Y.
A.We actually started to erect below-ground steel for One World Trade Center at the end of 2006, and this past June, the jumbo steel columns that outline the perimeter of the tower exceeded street level for the first time. Currently, construction workers are building the concrete core of the building, which will contain the elevators and other mechanical equipment and act as a support for the building.
Q. Are their any plans to incorporate an open-air observation platform on the roof of the Freedom Tower, much like the old World Trade Center? Brett, Atlanta, GA
A.The old World Trade Center observation deck was clearly one of the top tourist attractions in New York City, and I'm pleased that the new One World Trade Center will have a similar observation deck on its top floors. Our recent projections show that we expect the new observation deck to be as popular – if not more popular – than the old one. For that reason, we're considering dedicating two upper deck floors for the observation deck.
Q. Out of the whole plan, there is no 6 World Trade Center. What happened to it, why is it not there? Danial, Amherst, MA.
A.Before September 11th, 6 World Trade Center was the home of U.S. Customs. During the extensive public debate that occurred after September 11th to develop a master plan for the site, the various stakeholders agreed to build five major office towers (not six), a transportation hub, a memorial, retail and a vehicle security center. That was a decision that was reached after extensive study and deliberation and that's the plan we are building today.