Investigation into Transit Hub fireproofing

December 22, 2011 3:59:35 AM PST
The World Trade Center Transportation Hub is behind schedule and hundreds of millions over budget.

The dual pressure of time and cost-overruns might help explain why the Port Authority has decided to eliminate the fireproofing of the huge above-ground steel structure that 200,000 people will pass under every day.

"Fireproofing is a critical piece of fire protection, a blanket we put on buildings to insulate the steel from heat of fire and in my estimation it is critical component for any large building particularly a transit facility like this one," said Glenn Corbett, a fire safety expert.

But more than a year ago, Eyewitness News pressed then Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward on whether the $25 million fireproofing had been yanked from the Transit Hub contract.

"Has that been taken out of the project, the fireproofing of the steel columns?" Eyewitness News Investigative reporter Jim Hoffer asked.

"No, complete news to me. The Port Authority has the highest standards for the safety for all of its facilities. We wouldn't compromise a structure like the Transit Hub in terms of fireproofing in the least. I don't know where you are getting that information at all," said Chris Ward, the Former Port Authority Executive Director.

Eyewitness News was getting the information from a well-placed source who also provided a Port Authority document.

It requested that those bidding on the Transit Hub contract "Should exclude the cost of fireproofing or intumescent coating from the structural steel."

At the same time the head of the Port Authority was telling Eyewitness News this:

"So it's going to be fireproofed?" Hoffer asked.

"Of course!" Ward said.

Soon after, the Port Authority hired an engineering firm to conduct a test to see whether the steel structure without fireproofing could hold up under a fire.

It concluded that it could because of "the high volume of the space and robustness of the structure".

The problem according to experts Eyewitness News spoke to is that the test was based on a fire equal to "two-to-three closely spaced passenger cars".

"Given the fact this is such a large building and is a terrorist target, a small fire in this building is not something I'd be planning for, I'd be planning for much larger worst case scenario," Corbett said.

Yet, based on the Port Authority's two-to-three car fire test, a Deputy Commissioner for the Buildings Department signed off on the Agency's decision not to fireproof the Transit Hub concluding it meets required fire resistance ratings.

What about the painful lessons of World Trade Center history where thousands died from two terrorist attacks, one in which inadequate fireproofing hastens the collapse of the twin towers?

"I'm really shocked given what happened on 9/11 including issues of fireproofing where these lessons seemed to be unlearned and unheeded," Corbett said.

The Port Authority says the below ground steel where the retail stores will be located will have fireproofing.

In a statement to Eyewitness News, the agency says, "Our engineers have conducted a thorough review of the fireproofing requirements and found that we will satisfy our high safety standards for the project as well as meet or exceed New York City Building Code requirements."


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