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By JOSH MARGOLIN of the New York Post
August 12, 2011
The outrageous toll hikes pushed by the Port Authority’s top brass are needed to cover their wild — and hidden — cost overruns at the World Trade Center, The Post has learned.
It will take an additional $2 billion to rebuild the site of the 2001 terror attacks, as compared to the financial plan announced three years ago by agency chief Chris Ward, documents obtained by The Post reveal.
For years, top management scrambled to cover up the budget-busting numbers.
“Everybody knew that it wasn’t the full numbers,” one expert on PA finances said. “Everybody knew the numbers were off from the start.”
And it could get much worse: The overruns could quickly balloon to nearly $2.7 billion.
That doomsday budget scenario would come if the agency doesn’t get a planned $650 million in reimbursements from the 9/11 Memorial Foundation, the cash-strapped MTA and the state Transportation Department.
Drivers can sound off on the toll increases at public hearings scheduled for Tuesday. The agency’s board will vote on the package next Friday.
The astonishing overruns were brought about by top agency management, who bungled their assessment of the project’s costs in 2008. Now motorists are picking up the tab.
The secret agency documents revealed:
* Construction of the centerpiece 1 WTC Tower has overrun projections by $186 million.
* The transportation hub has run $200 million off the rails.
* And undefined “other site infrastructure” work has increased by $422 million.
The PA declined to comment.
The agency — which operates the WTC, the Hudson River and Staten Island crossings, the PATH and JFK, La Guardia and Newark airports — already said it’s running out of Ground Zero funds, without explaining why.
It turns out that officials were not candid about the agency’s finances — even as construction lumbered ahead.
Just months after Ward laid out his October 2008 financial plan — saying the construction costs would be about $9.7 billion — agency officials quietly began slipping the cost increases into official documents.
“We were ready to take the [public] hit,” said one ranking agency source. “But nobody caught it.”
But years later, the bills started coming due.
Last Friday, the agency proposed massive fare hikes on the George Washington Bridge, the Holland and Lincoln tunnels and the bridges that connect Staten Island to New Jersey.
For E-ZPass drivers, tolls would increase by $4 in September and then $2 more in 2014. Cash-paying motorists would see their tolls increase $7, to $15 total next month, and then to $17 total in three years.
PATH fares would increase by $1, to $2.75 — more than the price of an MTA subway ride.
The PA says the new tolls would rake in $1 billion, which would help pay off current debts and help borrow more construction cash.
Gov. Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who control the agency, said they were shocked by the hikes and will reject them. But they haven’t said how big an increase they will accept.
Spokesmen for the governors declined to comment.