WTC: Even More Delayed Than You Feared

Alex Frangos has the depressing news: the much-delayed fiasco that is the WTC reconstruction is going to be even more delayed than most of us had feared.

The challenges center on the Port Authority’s planned transit hub and the memorial, which sits above commuter-rail tracks…

The hub’s wing-shaped design and its underground passageways and underpinnings have proved to be difficult to execute within the original $2 billion budget. The transit hub, most recently scheduled to open in 2011, probably won’t open until perhaps 2014, officials say, though estimates of the delays are still preliminary.

2014?! A World Trade Center without a transit hub is basically a World Trade Center without a Center. And it’s not like the transit infrastructure needs to be built: the PATH trains have been running into the WTC site for a few years now. The Port Authority has clearly shown itself to be utterly incompetent in running this show, and it’s becoming ever more obvious that the worst day in the history of the rebuilding was the day when the land-swap idea died.

The land-swap idea was simple and elegant: the Port Authority runs the airports at La Guardia and JFK, but doesn’t own the land beneath them. It has no real operational interest in the World Trade Center, beyond that PATH station, but owns 16 acres of prime real estate there, which by coincidence is worth pretty much the same as the land under the airports. So the obvious solution was to do a swap, where the city would get the WTC site and the Port Authority would take full control of the airports. But due to political sclerosis and a singular lack of vision from George Pataki, it never happened.

Instead, the WTC rebuilding project has been run by a set of teams which seem incapable of working together, ultimately answerable to a rotating cast of governors: not just Pataki, Spitzer, and Paterson in New York, but also DiFrancesco, Bennett, Codey (twice), McGreevey, and Corzine in New Jersey. No one has both the willingness and the ability to butt any heads together on this, although Paterson’s decision to call for a progress report is at least a tiny step in the right direction.

When Daniel Libeskind first unveiled his plan for the WTC site, he called it a "bargain basement" plan – the cheapest of all the finalists, and fast to build, as well. I look back on my blogging from February 2003 with despair:

Libeskind said that within four years we should have the major public components – the memorial site and museum, the cultural center, the transit hub, and the restored skyline. Personally, I believe all of it except for the skyline.

As it is, the major components are likely to take not four years but twelve, and even that’s probably optimistic. All I can say is that I’m glad NYC didn’t get the 2012 Olympics: imagine the mess if it were trying to build both of those major infrastructure projects at the same time!

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