Thursday, September 10, 2015

14 Years Later: Remembering 9/11 and Where We Are Today

I can't believe that it's already been 14 years since 9/11. I remember it like it was yesterday, and yet there's an entire generation of kids whose only knowledge of the events of the days and weeks after the attacks is from books, videos, or personal recollections such as this.

That's one of the reasons that I continue to write these annual remembrances. It's also for myself.

I've written essentially the same opening each of the past few years. It's still appropriate to remember today, as it was when I first wrote this:
September 11, 2001. New Yorkers were heading to the polls to vote in primary elections to determine the next mayor of the city. It was a morning full of promise and baseball fans were excited about the Yankees' chances of making the playoffs, the Mets thinking about the future, and the start of the new football season. In other words, it was a day not unlike the ones we've experienced once again this year.

While everyone was focused on the day ahead, another group of people were thinking about the mission that would forever alter the skyline of NYC and alter history. Al Qaeda's terrorists were already on board four jets bound for New York and Washington DC and had already overpowered the crews.

I was on a NJ Transit train with my dad when I first noticed something wrong at the WTC out of the corner of my eye; it was smoke coming from the upper reaches of the tower.

It was just around 8:45.

The world changed, and I didn't quite realize it. No one did.

People watching the morning news didn't know it either at first. But they would soon be glued to broadcasts that showed the horrors of the worst terror attacks ever perpetrated.

The damage done on that morning was nearly impossible to comprehend. In the mere blink of the eye, nearly 3,000 people were condemned to death and the World Trade Center would soon be reduced to a pile of rubble that would burn for weeks on end. Reports would come in that a third plane had struck and damaged the Pentagon.  But the death rattle of the Twin Towers would continue for just under two hours and victims trapped above the fires had to make the choice to stay and choke on the heat and smoke or jump to a certain death. All too many make that decision to jump. Firefighters on the ground also succumbed before the towers fell - falling debris hitting firefighters and fleeing people alike.

Victim Number One would be there to comfort those who fell. Rev. Mychal Judge of the FDNY was comforting fallen firefighters and office workers alike when he was struck and killed by debris. So many people inside the Department and around the City thought so highly of him that he was honored as the first victim of the attacks - so that he could comfort and aid all those many others who were murdered on that day - to guide them to Heaven. There are continuing efforts to see him sainted, and his ministrations to those in need, especially on that day, certainly would do his memory justice.

All too many would unfortunately follow him - and not by their own choice.

Here are remembrances of a few of those killed on 9/11, as written by my friend legalbgl for Project 2,996:

Steven Harris Russin (2014).
Lt. Col. Jerry Don Dickerson Jr. (2013).
Mary Lenz Wieman (2012).
Mark Francis Broderick (2011).
Captain Patrick J. Brown (2010).
Hagay Shefi (2009).
Alison Marie Wildman (2008).
Daniel Thomas Afflito (2007).
Donna Bernaerts-Kearns (2006).

Local commemorations are already underway (and here and here) and will continue through the week throughout the region. This is the second year for which the WTC Museum is open on 9/11. While I still find the cost of going to the museum to be ridiculously expensive and think that the museum should be free for all who visit, it has quickly become one of the most visited museums in the city.

While I don't need to be able to visit the museum myself, the museum is for those who weren't even born yet or understood what actually happened at the WTC site on 9/11 and the weeks, months, and years that followed. The museum should be free for all to come and bear witness to the events. This should be a no-brainer, and yet no one can agree on making that happen. The NPS already operates the 9/11 Memorial in Shanksville, PA, where Flight 93 crashed after passengers rose up to stop the terrorists from attempting to crash the plane into the Capitol or White House. It's been a long journey for that project to come to fruition, but the results are stunning. The families banded together to raise the money to obtain the land and build a suitable memorial - turning it over to the NPS. It was the right thing to do.

This should likewise be the outcome at the WTC - the museum and memorial should be turned over to the NPS for administration and oversight.

While the federal government created the James Zadroga health and compensation fund (Zadroga Act)  because of the ongoing health concerns, including cancers, of those who carried out relief and recovery efforts at Ground Zero, parts of the program are set to sunset once again without further action by Congress. As more time passes, the link between exposure to the environment at Ground Zero and cancer is increasingly clear.

More people continue to seek assistance via the program, including those emergency responders who came from across the country to spell the FDNY and NYPD and PAPD in the grim task of recovering the remains of those murdered. The Zadroga Act wasn't perfect by any means and it has come too late for some, but it's a start to compensate and aid families of responders who are suffering from all manner of ailments  attributed to Ground Zero exposure. The Act should be made permanent, especially as the number of victims of the attacks grows - more names will be added to the list of those who fell as a result of 9/11. That includes another 21 FDNY officers who worked during the recovery after the attacks.

Congress, and the GOP in particular, have not taken the necessary action to reauthorize the Act, and they are putting the lives of the responders at further risk and adding needless stress from the financial uncertainties:
As funding for the program reaches its expiration date, many lawmakers are pushing for extended, long-term compensation for victims. This April a number of federal lawmakers called for a permanent reauthorization of the James Zadroga Act. Despite reluctance by some members of Congress to fund the reauthorization, which will cost around $400 million annually, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand told Jon Stewart in July that she expects a vote sometime around September 11. Both Gillibrand and Stewart are passionate supporters of the act, with Stewart calling any resistance to it “the most galling example of a legislature removed from the purpose of their job.”

There are also efforts being made to honor those transit workers who were involved in the recovery and rebuilding efforts. After all, the MTA helped transport workers to and from Ground Zero and Staten Island where debris was being sorted, helped with logistics, and had to rebuild devastated infrastructure in and around the WTC, including stations, tracks, and related equipment.

Construction at the site doesn't domination the front pages of local papers as it used to, as construction is nearing the end on several portions of the site. The entire Western side of Ground Zero is now essentially built out - between the Memorial, Museum, 1WTC, 4WTC, 7WTC, and the nearly finished above-ground portion of the WTC Transit Hall.

The South Memorial Pool looking towards 4WTC. 
The following is an update of construction around the WTC site:
  • 1WTC  has finally recaptured part of the skyline and is regarded as the tallest skyscraper in North America at 1,776 feet. 1WTC is now open for business, including the observation deck, which opened earlier this year. That's even as work continues around its base on the eastern side.
  • Construction of the Transit Hub is still underway, and Santiago Calatrava's design shows its final form, even as the cost pushes past a staggering $4 billion. That's nearly $2 billion over the original budget estimate, and the costs associated with this has sapped the Port Authority's ability to build new infrastructure in the region, which is its core mission. Instead, the agency has poured billions into a project that doesn't add any cross-river capacity.
  •  4WTC is in the process of being occupied, after being completed last year. Tenants are already moving in, though it is not yet fully occupied.
  • 3WTC is once again rising skyward after a delay due to lack of financing and tenants signed. It is more than halfway to its full height, and it is scheduled to be open for business in 2018.
  • 2WTC is seeing progress at last, although the design has completely changed. Architect Sir Norman Foster is off the project, and his design has been shelved in favor of one designed by Bjarke Ingels, whose design comes courtesy of the whims and wishes of News Corp, who will be an anchor tenant. 2WTC will likely become the one of the most expensive skyscraper ever built (after 1WTC) because of the complexity of designing and building the skyscraper in the location chosen. It's being built atop key infrastructure for the entire site, including ventilation for the PATH system, and the cost will soar to nearly $4  billion. Oh, and for those keeping track, 2WTC is likely to be finished in 2020.
  • Still lagging is the Vehicle Security Center that runs along the south side of the WTC and which was previously occupied by the former Deutsche Bank building. There's a new platform and entrance area being built for vehicles servicing the WTC complex, but it's years behind schedule and over budget (like everything else at the WTC). Even St. Nicholas Church is seeing progress - and that's with Santiago Calatrava designing the new church (who designed the PATH hub). The elevated park atop the VSC is being constructed at the same time, but the delays have had a ripple effect in getting work done elsewhere on the site, including bringing in tenants to their new offices.
  • Bringing up the rear is 5WTC, which has pretty much fallen off the radar since the site of the former Deutsche Bank building was finally razed. There are no plans for what to do with that site, and it may continue to lie fallow. Frankly, the Port Authority should sell the site and let a private developer build out the site - whether as office space (not likely), or as a combination of hotel and residential space, which is much more likely given the spate of these combination towers being built around the City, including at the former Moody's site a few blocks north at 30 Park Place, which also happens to be being built by Silverstein Properties.

The North Memorial Pool looking towards the PATH transit center.

Last year, the Port Authority announced that they expect the transit hub to be open by the end of 2015. I personally don't see it happening, unless the Port Authority will open it the way the MTA has done at the Fulton Center. I fully expect that sections will be closed off for construction to continue as the main transit hall is largely available. There's still demolition work underway - the temporary platform spaces and mezannine levels have to be demolished and reconfigured, and there's no indication that the work will wrap up by the end of the year. In other words, this will be a phased reopening.

The PATH hub as viewed from Church and Fulton Streets.
A nearly complete transit hub superstructure
So, while the hub will be visually interesting and definitely become a photographer's favorite, the problem with the PATH transit hub and all that spending is that it doesn't exactly add capacity to the system.  The Port Authority is fudging the figures so as to claim that 250,000 pedestrians will use the transit hub daily. That's not exactly true. 35,000 people use PATH daily in and out of the WTC. The rest are people who the Port Authority expects to visit the mall being built as part of the hub, and the people who are working in 1WTC and 4WTC as those spaces are filled out. 250,000 people are not going to be taking PATH daily. Even with proposals to extend PATH all the way to Newark Airport, the ridership figures do not justify the billions spent the way they were (and there's reports that some New Jersey Democrats are looking to scuttle the extension over the ongoing kerfuffle involving United Airlines and dealings with the former Chairman of the Port Authority David Samson that has already seen several airline officials get canned).

The price does provide for a lot of marble though.

The mezzanine level for the PATH terminal; there is marble as far as the eye can see.
The Port Authority wanted a white elephant - and they got one - clad in marble.

Much of the fault for the slow pace of rebuilding is the result of Port Authority actions and omissions to limit cost increases, especially when it comes to the transit hub and the delays in building led to still more costs incurred. All of these costs add up, and they've sapped the Port Authority's ability to do other critical infrastructure work elsewhere in the region - expanding transit options while the WTC complex is built at a near glacial pace. That pace is also the result of the acts by governors in both New York and New Jersey to contain costs. Special ire should be directed at Gov. George Pataki whose interference in the design plans added years to the rebuilding and added costs.

1WTC shrouded in breaking clouds. Note that scaffold on the south side.

For the most part, construction at the site has been without serious accidents, though there have been some close calls. Last November, a scaffold malfunctioned and required a high rise emergency 600 feet in the air:

A view up the South side of 1WTC - it's my favorite view of the tower, and this particular image shows the malfunctioning scaffold on November 15, 2014.

At the same time, the Fulton Center, which is a block East of the WTC site is open, and will eventually link to the PATH transit hub via the Dey Street connector (which is still shut despite being completed for several years), and ultimately those working at the World Financial Center (Brookfield Place) would be able to access Fulton Center without having to travel outside. There's no official timeframe for when the Dey Street connector being opened, even though all the necessary infrastructure is complete.

Interior as seen from Broadway and Fulton escalator bank

The skyline will never be the same. Neither will our hearts, which are heavy with the loss and supreme sacrifices made on 9/11 by the rescue personnel who bravely rushed up the towers even as people were racing to get out of the towers or gasping as people were forced to jump to their deaths to avoid being burned alive in the fires that racked the towers.

I remember.

Last year, Century21 Department store wrapped their building across from Ground Zero with a full size mural. It's as appropriate then as today.
Century21 department store doing a full block wrap
The Century21 Department Store installing a full-block wrap on their Church Street frontage.
What the Century21 wrap will look like when done.
We remember.

Yellow roses adorn the names of those who served in the military and died on 9/11 as part of Veterans' Day remembrances.

The Tribute in Light

The view of Lower Manhattan from the Staten Island 9/11 Memorial at St. George.
Looking across the Hudson River from Hoboken.

For my prior year recollections and postings, see September 11, 2014September 11, 2013September 11, 2012, 10 Years Later,  September 11, 2010, September 11, 2009,  September 11, 2008, September 11, 2007, September 11, 2006, and September 11, 2005.

Cross posted at LGF.


Legalbgl said...

Hawk, please edit your post, you left off my tribute to Donna Bernaerts-Kearns, She deserves to be remembered on this day as well! Thank you.

lawhawk said...


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