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clock Dec 19, 2006 9:59 pm US/Eastern

First Freedom Tower Beam Rises At Ground Zero

Six More Columns Expected To Go Up Over Next 2 Weeks


Magee Hickey

(CBS/AP) NEW YORK Two 25-ton steel columns -- one bearing signatures of steelworkers who helped make it -- rose at ground zero Tuesday, a milestone in prolonged efforts to build the soaring skyscraper that will replace the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

As construction workers, politicians and architects applauded, a massive crane lifted the first, 31-foot-high column, which was painted with an American flag and the words "Freedom Tower," and set it over steel bars on the southern edge of the tower's base.

A second column was set a few feet away; it bore the signatures of steelworkers and politicians from Virginia, where it spent time at a steel company before being shipped to New York. A third column lay on its side, plastered with signatures of New Yorkers and Sept. 11 victims' relatives as well as pictures of some firefighters killed in the 2001 attack. It will be installed in the next few days.

By next spring, 27 of the jumbo steel columns will anchor the skyscraper and rise to street level -- about 70 feet from the bottom of ground zero.

"Today the steel rises, the Freedom Tower rises from the ashes of Sept. 11, and the people of New York and the people of America can be proud," Gov. George Pataki said.

The 1,776-foot tower -- expected to be one of the nation's tallest buildings when it opens in 2011 -- has long been planned as the tallest and most symbolic of the five skyscrapers planned to replace the trade center.

"Rising from the heart of the World Trade Center site, the Freedom Tower will symbolize the spirit of our city and our nation: inspiring, soaring and undefeated," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

But lengthy negotiations over who would build the tower and security concerns have delayed the project.

The tower has had more than one design and groundbreaking; politicians lay a granite cornerstone in July 2004 to begin construction, but later had to move the building after city police said it would be vulnerable to terrorism in its location, too close to traffic.

Construction began again this spring, after the site's owner renegotiated its lease with a private developer and took over its construction.

Gov.-elect Eliot Spitzer, who formally assumes office next month, recently said he planned to look again at designs for the tower. Federal and state agencies, including the governor's office, have already agreed to occupy half of the building's office space.

The columns installed Tuesday -- among the largest made in the world -- were forged in Luxembourg, then shipped to Lynchburg, Va., where workers welded steel plates onto them so they could be properly set in place.

The entire tower will eventually be built with 45,000 tons of steel, builders say.

(© 2006 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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