The Bird and the Cross: How an Over-Budget PATH Station Helps Explain a Missing Church

calatrava path hub The Bird and the Cross: How an Over Budget PATH Station Helps Explain a Missing ChurchLast week, the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey approved yet another increase in the budget for Santiago Calatrava’s winged transit hub at the World Trade Center, bringing the price of the station up to a level once deemed untenable while also dipping into the Port’s ground zero reserve funds for the first time.

The station will now cost a total of $3.44 billion, up from an initial $2.2 billion, after it was determined the signature spines that comprise the structure’s roof would cost an additional $180 million. It is the first time the project’s budget has risen since executive director Chris Ward released his overarching review of the entire World Trade Center site more than two years ago, when the project was budgeted at $3.26 billion.

Ward told The Times that while not ideal, this situation is within the realm of acceptability because most of the PATH project had been bid out, so the odds of prices rising further were remote, and the need to strengthen the structure was crucial. Also, that is why there is a reserve fund, “for these types of circumstances.”

Yet if the Port could find money to fortify Calatrava’s design, why could it not execute plans for the new St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox church on the other end of the site? On the one hand, this underscores the Port’s arguments, that the decision to terminate the church’s plan was not one of economics but logistics, that the church was being too demanding and it could not be reasonably accommodated.

But this latest announement also underscores a storyline delivered both by the church and government officials who discussed the matter with The Observer for a feature last week. Not long after the Port made its initial deal with the church, Lehman Brothers collapsed, the world changed, and $60 million began to look like a lot of money to an public authority whose finances were suddenly a little less certain. 

Even if money remains a non-issue with the church–as the Port told to The Observer after the Calatrava announcement–the fact that the transit hub continues to be a source of ballooning budgets and uncertainty serves as a reminder of just how complicated and uncontrollable ground zero can be.

There are still plenty of pieces, such as the completion of Silverstein’s two towers, the Performing Arts Center and the Deutsch Bank site that remain an open question. Adding yet another volatile piece to that mix, as the church very well would have, could have only made keeping things moving at the major projects like the memorial and One World Trade even more difficult than the hardest job in the city already is. Indeed, it remains to be seen how many more hiccups there could still be.

mchaban [at] observer.com | @mc_nyo