Underground Ground Zero plan worries some

November 22, 2010 8:52:11 PM PST
Ground Zero construction is on a tear. The Freedom Tower now 48 stories and climbing at a floor per week. Also well underway, the construction of a network of garages and interconnecting roads below ground that will serve all five of the trade center office towers.

"It's a logical place to do great damage on this site," Glen Corbett, professor of Fire Safety at John Jay College, said.

Corbett has been urging the Port Authority to scrap its plans to build underground non-public parking facilities. The $633 million dollar complex will include a vehicle security center where tour buses and delivery trucks will undergo screening before being able to park either in a garage near tower five or one located directly under the huge PATH transit center.

"It puts a great burden on vehicle security screening center to make sure every tour bus that goes in there is thoroughly searched not just on the first day when facility opens but 10, 20 years into the future," Corbett said.

We caught up with the Port Authority's Executive Director, Chris Ward, to ask him about the underground complex.

WARD: This was specifically designed for purposes of security to make this site more secure.
HOFFER: What kind of security to be able to park tour buses?
WARD: Not going to discuss security initiatives, but rest assured working with NYPD, this will be the most secured facility in the city.

But the history of the Port Authority and underground parking is not good. In 1993, a bomb-laden rental truck exploded underneath the Trade Center killing 6 people. A jury found the Port Authority "negligent." The attorney who helped argue the case, Blair Fensterstock, says the new ground zero parking plan is too risky, especially the underground road system.

"The vulnerability of a road system under a building like the World Trade Center, in and out of different buildings, is extremely high towards a potential terrorist bombing," Fensterstock said.

HOFFER: Why would you do it again, some are arguing it doesn't make sense to risk it a second time?
WARD: The security risks for downtown are multiple. The design of the vehicle security center is specifically to make sure that vehicles down there have been scrutinized and evaluated in the most comprehensive way.

Perhaps the lessons have been learned and the half-billion dollar plus underground parking and road system will be a model of security, but it's a vigilance that will have to be maintained 24/7 for decades to come:

"The question is the developing spectrum of screening going to keep up with the developments of the terrorism. And when you put that against the background of what's happened at the WTC before, I would not want to take that risk," Fensterstock said.

Critics of the underground garages say an alternative would be to park tour buses on the Jersey side of the Hudson and have visitors take the PATH train right to the Trade Center and the memorial site.

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