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Memories but no memorial World Trade Center site may need decades to rebuild, if completed at all

Eight years on, and there is no memorial to the victims at the site of the greatest carnage, no wondrous new building occupying the burning ground, no agreement on how to move those projects along.

There have also been no new attacks since terrorists killed more than 3,000 people -- themselves included -- by slamming hijacked airplanes into the towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

If it were the only choice, we'd accept that bargain happily: safety in exchange for foot-dragging on redevelopment of the World Trade Center site. But it's not the only choice.

As the country pauses today, on the eighth anniversary of those attacks, its citizens may feel the old rush of raw emotions -- sorrow, fear, anger, patriotism -- but tinged with a newer one: frustration. Why should it be so hard to build a memorial or to construct new buildings that would fill the gaping hole in the bedrock of lower Manhattan?

The latest estimates are that it could take decades to finish the project, if it is ever completed. Some of that has to do with economics. Admittedly, it makes little sense to erect commercial buildings if there aren't enough tenants to occupy them (although that is the exact history of the Empire State Building).

Plans were released in 2003 to construct a spectacular group of buildings, centered by the graceful Freedom Tower and anchored by a memorial to the victims of the attacks. But today, six years after Daniel Libeskind's master plan was selected, little has been accomplished. The framework of the Freedom Tower rises several stories above street level. Work has begun on another office building, the memorial pools' outline and plaza are visible and work continues on underground elements of the $3.2 billion transit hub.

But after eight years, work should be further along. Delays hurt neighboring areas in Manhattan and they send a terrible message about the state's and city's ability to move forward. The job has to be done right, as former Gov. George E. Pataki says, but it can be done right and more quickly than this.

Today, we remember the victims and recall again the need for vigilance and preparation. We should also recommit to making ground zero a functioning and an emotionally moving part of New York, both the city and the state.

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