LOWER MANHATTAN — New Yorkers no longer have to wonder what's happening at the World Trade Center site.
After years of delays and stagnation, construction is now moving forward at a dizzying pace, as 3,500 workers each day build two skyscrapers, a train station, a memorial and a museum.
When the eight-acre 9/11 Memorial opens this Sunday, enormous waterfalls will thunder down into pools marking the footprint of the original Twin Towers, surrounded by bronze panels inscribed with the victims' names.
More than 225 swamp white oak trees will cast their shadow on the expansive memorial plaza, and visitors will also be able to tilt their heads to see the top of the still-rising One World Trade Center (now at 80 stories) and 4 World Trade Center (now at 40 stories).
"Today, the transformation of lower Manhattan is nothing less than spectacular," Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said at a press conference about the construction progress Wednesday.
"[The World Trade Center] is not just the largest construction project ever undertaken — it is also a noble endeavor."
The 9/11 Memorial will be the first piece of the site to open to the public, followed by the underground 9/11 Museum in September 2012.
The first office skyscraper to open will be Larry Silverstein's 64-story Tower 4 in 2013. The tower will house city and Port Authority workers, along with the NYPD's World Trade Center Command of more than 650 police officers, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Wednesday.
Next to open in 2014 will be One World Trade Center, set to rise a symbolic 1,776 feet including its spire. Conde Nast recently agreed to move its headquarters to the tower, leasing 1 million of its 2.6 million square feet.
"New York will have a new exclamation point in the skyline," said Chris Ward, executive director at the Port Authority, of the skyscraper.
This past year of World Trade Center rebuilding has been notable for the absence of public squabbling between Ward, Silverstein and the many other officials involved.
"It hasn't been easy," Silverstein said Wednesday. "But we are here."
Ward likened the immensely complex and interdependent construction to a game of pick-up sticks, in which every move has a ripple of consequences.
"Every single day there's a challenge," Ward said.
There are still plenty of unanswered questions about the site's future, including when the oft-delayed Frank Gehry-designed performing arts center will open and what will rise on the site for Tower 5, where the Deutsche Bank building once stood.
Bloomberg said Wednesday that much of the site's future timeline will depend on how soon the economy recovers.
Silverstein said he hopes to finish building his remaining office towers — the 79-story 2 World Trade Center and the 71-story 3 World Trade Center — by 2016.
Perhaps no one is as gratified to see the new World Trade Center finally come together as Daniel Libeskind, whose master plan for the site won an international design competition in 2003.
Libeskind said his goal was not just to replace the office space lost on 9/11, but also to create a multi-use urban environment that allowed a wide variety of people to come together both to remember and to move forward.
"It's not just about buildings," Libeskind said Wednesday. "It's about memory and life. It's about the victory of life over these events."