MANHATTAN — Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the Port Authority Wednesday against a blistering report that said the organization was "challenged and dysfunctional," slamming critics as playing "Monday morning quarterback."
The report, commissioned by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, singled out the World Trade Center site as one of the authority’s most problematic projects, citing costs now likely to exceed $14.8 billion — $3.8 billion more than the last projection in 2008.
Part of the issue was the "mandate to open the National September 11 Memorial and Museum" by Sept. 11, 2011, in time for the tenth anniversary of the terror attacks, the audit found.
But Bloomberg, who serves as chairman of the memorial’s foundation, said the criticism was unwarranted.
"I don’t know where those numbers come from," Bloomberg said, adding that the costs were not significantly higher than what had originally been envisioned.
"I'm sure there are some things that they could have done differently, in retrospect. [It's] easy to play Monday morning quarterback."
Regardless of the cost, the mayor insisted that finishing the memorial in time for the anniversary was critical.
"Can you imagine? If America couldn’t have come up with a memorial by the 10th anniversary, I would suggest that the press would have had a field day," he said. "It would have been an embarrassment around the world.
"New York had to deliver. The Port Authority had to deliver. The donors had to deliver."
The comments come as construction on the museum next to the memorial has halted as a result of a bitter dispute between the foundation and the Port Authority over who is responsible for paying for infrastructure cost overruns. The delay has forced both sides to concede the museum will not be open in time for the 11th anniversary of the terror attacks, as originally planned.
Bloomberg also tried to explain some of the challenges involved in redeveloping Ground Zero, a process that's been fraught with conflict from the start.
"The bottom line is the whole site is perhaps the most complex construction project in the history of the world — legally, politically, engineering-wise," he said.
"Keep in mind there's a railroad that runs through it. Two railroads. And they never stopped. Nobody else could do that. Every building is dependent on every other one. Who could build all these things at the same time? Only the people we had.
"The owner didn’t have title to the properties. The insurance companies were fighting. Every politician wanted to get involved," he said.
"And every time a new governor comes in, because it’s the Port Authority, things stop."
The audit was commissioned after the most recent fare hikes, ahead of the departure of Chris Ward, executive director of the Port Authority.
Cuomo and Christie, who jointly oversee the agency, said the report shows that "wide-ranging reform is long overdue" and vowed to "restore" the agency to "a responsible, highly transparent, well-managed organization focused on its core mission of maintaining and expanding our states' shared transportation infrastructure."