Last week the Port Authority made headlines when it came clean about the need to rethink budgets and timelines for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site, but it may have been the least surprising piece of news New Yorkers have had in a long time. What was noteworthy, however, was the straightforward but detailed analysis of the existing sticking points and a commitment to a more pragmatic and hard-nosed approach to moving forward.
At the request of Governor Paterson, Port Authority director Chris Ward and his staff conducted a review of the rebuilding process to date, and they produced a report that is well worth reading. It will be particularly interesting to those who find it hard to keep on top of who is in charge of which building, or which architect’s work is getting scaled way back due to budget problems; i.e., about 7,999,995 New Yorkers. The report emphasizes the interconnected nature of all 26 major projects, and identifies 15 issues that must be resolved before any reasonably accurate budget or schedule can be drawn up. According to the report, this new budget and schedule could not—and should not—be released until the fall, since it will take at least that long to coordinate updated information. That may seem like yet another delay, but it will be time well spent, especially if the new numbers are accurate and lead to progress. The last thing we need is to be told once again that things are moving along nicely, thanks very much, and it’ll all be grand.
The Pataki “groundbreaking” for the Freedom Tower was a particularly cynical example of that kind of wishful thinking—the July 4, 2004 ceremony to lay the cornerstone coincided neatly with the Republican National convention, but not with anything in the construction plan. (Two years later, it was shipped back to Hauppauge, Long Island, so that site work could actually begin.) Governor Paterson referenced that stunt at the press conference announcing the Port Authority’s report, saying, “We’re not going to give any phony dates or timetables at this point and then follow it up with phony ribbon-cuttings and encouraging words and no follow-up.”
Follow up has always been the problem, and one of the major issues that has prevented it is the enormous (and sometimes competing) agencies and interests involved. One of the report’s most interesting conclusions regards governance, and the fact that there is currently no single decision-making body. It calls for both a steering committee that would make the call when programmatic conflicts arise, and a site logistics authority that it likens to an air-traffic controller, coordinating the complex logistical issues on-site.
This new tack toward transparency and pragmatism is particularly refreshing after the Kremlinesque secrecy of the old LMDC. It has called fresh attention to the fitful progress at Ground Zero, but if Ward can institute the suggestions he and his staff have outlined, that progress should be a lot smoother.