During Monday’s online chat, a traveler asked:
“What is going on at Columbus Circle in front of Union Station? It looks like underground work, but are they planning on doing road repairs as well? Columbus Circle has been in bad shape for a long time.”
Yes, indeed, it has been in bad shape for a long time, and with all the jurisdictions involved in operations at Union Station, it took a long time to get everyone on board for a rehabilitation project.
I didn’t get a chance to address this during the chat, so here’s a summary of the 18-month project launched by the District Department of Transportation in September.
The plaza should be a great public place. After all, it sits in the shadow of a great public space, a transportation hub for the nation’s capital. But for many years, the plaza has looked like a Roman ruin, with taxi cabs.
It’s not just that the plaza looked like a mess. It’s a confusing place for D.C. visitors, and can be a bit scary for the thousands of commuters who use it.
My favorite quote on this is from a story by Post reporter Mary Beth Sheridan in 2008. In it, Thomas Luebke, secretary of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, says the space in front of Union Station should “be more about a plaza and less about trying to walk across nine lines of vehicle traffic.”
The $7.8 million project will reconfigure the plaza to improve access and safety.
A new traffic pattern will allow vehicles to loop around the plaza as they enter and exit Union Station. Vehicles will no longer need to travel through the middle of it to leave the station.
New sidewalks will be added to create safer passages for pedestrians, and upgrades to the traffic signals should improve the flow of pedestrians and vehicles throughout the plaza.
DDOT said the work area will include the roadway adjacent to Union Station on the east and west sides, Columbus Circle; First Street NE between Massachusetts Avenue and G Street, Columbus Drive NE between Massachusetts Avenue and F Street and the streets that intersect Massachusetts Avenue at Columbus Circle.
During construction, the bus, car and taxi drop-off lanes in front of the station will remain open. Traffic lanes on Massachusetts Avenue and around the plaza will be reduced as necessary, DDOT said. Temporary walkways and crossings will be marked.
One of the complicating factors about any initiative at Union Station is the number of agencies and interests involved in planning for this D.C. transportation hub.
The construction project will be managed by DDOT, but the D.C. agency noted that it’s in a partnership that includes Amtrak, the Architect of the Capitol, the National Park Service, the Union Station Redevelopment Corp. and Metro.