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New York Post

 

Big Dig's Lessons For Ground Zero

July 07, 2008

By Nicole Gelinas

CHRIS Ward, the new Port Authority director, ad mitted last week that Ground Zero rebuilding is utterly SNAFU'ed, with "significant delays and cost overruns" for every public project on the site. "At least 15 fundamental issues critical to the overall project" are still unresolved.

New York is stuck waiting—waiting for officials to figure out how a half-billion-dollar memorial can withstand the weight of the trees meant to go atop it, waiting for a rework of the multibillion-dollar "transit hub."

As Gov. Paterson looks into the abyss, he should take some lessons from another vast project that was once a hole in the ground—Boston's Big Dig.

Don't lie: Big Dig officials figured that if they stalled disclosing cost increases and delays, the public would be so happy with early improvements that it would overlook problems.

Of course, lack of disclosure can be illegal for an agency that issues bonds to investors. More important, getting it done right requires being honest with the public—the problems Ward cites wouldn't be as bad if we'd had more honesty sooner.

Happily, Paterson seems to realize that he and his appointees must be truthful.

Don't use complexity as an excuse. The PA says that things are so complex that it's hard to know quite what's going on. As the Big Dig folks learned, the public eventually gets sick of hearing this.

Multibillion-dollar construction projects in the middle of cities are all complex. Get over it, and get it right.

Budget realistically up front—quick cost-cutting midstream can kill: Among other luxuries, the Big Dig blueprints included lavishly decorated tunnel ceilings—which got jettisoned as costs rose. In 2006, a ceiling panel in a tunnel crushed a car passenger partly because new engineering firms had jerry-rigged a cheaper system heavier than the original plan's.

That's a warning for us: Any deviation introduces new chances to make mistakes. Proper oversight—multiple checks and balances—is a must at Ground Zero.

We can't allow the inevitable massive changes to projects like the train hub and the memorial roof to cause problems that get uncovered only in a 500-page report released after someone's been killed.

Things change: When the Big Dig started, Bay State pols ran Congress and federal dollars seemed endless. Then the GOP took over, leaving the state to pay a lot of unexpected bills.

A few years ago, banks would've beaten down the door to lend leaseholder Larry Silverstein the money he needs to build his new towers. Today, it's going to be harder for him to get financing.

The developer was ready to rebuild when the market was. City and state officials had better not try to blame him now. They've got to achieve the same goal in a different economy.

If management doesn't get better, things could get way worse. The Big Dig showed what can go wrong when inept government officials try to manage hundreds of contractors and subcontractors on different projects at the same site.

As construction reaches peak activity—and we're nowhere near there yet Downtown—glitches cascade. If one project team is a few weeks late in turning one section over, you may have to pay another team to stand around waiting. Discover you've got a flawed design, and you may have to pay a new firm to redo it.

Paterson should talk to Robert Cerasoli, a former Massachusetts inspector general who can offer first-hand warnings from his Big Dig investigations.

New York's project differs from Boston's in one crucial way: The Big Dig more or less works and has vastly improved Boston's traffic. The Freedom Tower, if it's ever built, may be a sad white elephant. The planned memorial is a generic mishmash of water and trees.

Rebuilding was never the puzzle that the world's greatest architects made it out to be. Look at Seven World Trade Center: Silverstein was able to rebuild quickly because he didn't have to work with the Port Authority. He put up a modern, elegant successor to what al Qaeda destroyed, with safety and technology upgrades, and created a superior setting for it, too.

Paterson and Silverstein should should talk to structural engineer Ken Gardner. His plan to build new Twin Towers pays poignant homage to the old while embracing the new. And it makes intuitive sense.

Gardner says the early construction work doesn't preclude a switch to a sensible course, saving time and money down the line. And he says his memorial—superior to what's planned—could be done before the 10th anniversary, another promise the state can't make.

If there's still a chance take a more elegant, obvious path, Paterson and Silverstein should be bold in saying so.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/seven/07072008/postopinion/opedcolumnists/big_digs_lessons_for_ground_zero_118812.htm

 

 
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