Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the push to open the September 11 Memorial and Museum by the tenth anniversary of the attacks after Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie released an audit citing the drive to open the facility by the historic date as a major factor behind $3.8 billion in cost overruns at the Ground Zero construction site.
“I dont know where those numbers come from,” Mayor Bloomberg said at a press conference yesterday. “Could you imagine if America couldn’t have come up with a memorial by the tenth anniversary? I would suggest the press would have had a field day. It would have gone on and on. It would have been embarrassment around the world.”
Mayor Bloomberg also pointed out that costs for the memorial construction were supplemented by donations and said the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the land at Ground Zero, “did a very good job” with the project.
“New York had to deliver. The Port Authority had to deliver. The donors had to deliver. We raised $400 odd million in private monies,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “The Port Authority did a very good job. … Families think its a wonderful place to go and to remember their loved ones. People walk away saying, ‘I understand for the first time what happened to America and we’ve got to resolve not to let that happen again.’”
The governors ordered the audit in response to widespread criticism of recent toll hikes the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey instituted to make up for the billions in cost overruns at the Ground Zero site. Governor Cuomo has not been shy about his dissatisfaction with outgoing Port Authority executive director Chris Ward, who made plans to leave the agency after rumblings from Albany indicating he was set to get fired.
The audit was highly critical of Mr. Ward, who was appointed by Governor David Paterson and has been defended by Mayor Bloomberg in the past. In an exclusive story announcing the forthcoming audit published late last year, New York Post Albany columnist Fred Dicker, who enjoys an especially cozy relationship with Governor Cuomo, cited “a source close to the Cuomo administration” as saying the audit would show Mr. Ward “more concerned about what Mayor Bloomberg thought of the reconstruction timetable than he was about the cost to the state he was supposed to be working for.”
While the construction of the new World Trade Center tower is over budget, Mayor Bloomberg said he believed costs for the memorial and museum were in line with original estimates.
“Some of these things the costs are higher. I don’t think the costs for the memorial or the museum are higher basically than what was originally envisioned,” he said.
Costs for the memorial and museum have actually risen quite a bit since the start of the project. Initial estimates put a $500 million price tag on the memorial and museum. Since then, the estimated cost of the project has ballooned to $700 million.
Mayor Bloomberg also pointed out the overall complexity of construction at the Ground Zero site as justification for higher-than-expected costs:
“The bottom line is, the whole site is perhaps the most complex construction project in the whole world; legally, politically, engineering-wise. Keep in mind, there’s a railroad that runs through it–two railroads, and they never stopped. … The owner didn’t have the title to the properties, the insurance companies were fighting, every politician wanted to get involved. We had, I think, five different governors of the State of New Jersey and four different governors for the State of New York. And every time a new governor comes in, because it’s the Port Authority, things stop.”
The mayor acknowledged there were probably “some things” the Port Authority “could have done differently in retrospect,” but he said the audit should be viewed as a roadmap for future work on the Ground Zero site rather than a criticism of the project’s past history.
“Easy to play Monday morning quarterback, but overall, I thought that the study was interesting,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “It basically said, ‘Look we are where we are, let’s get down and work together.’ And that’s what the governors should be saying and I support them.”