Two contenders remain for site of Potomac Yard Metro station

July 10, 2014

A model of the proposed Potomac Yard Metro station from this view you can see Station Alternative B, looking west from the Potomac River. (Courtesy of City of Alexandria)

Alexandria and federal transit officials have narrowed down to two the potential sites for the construction of a Metro station at Potomac Yard, as the project moves forward in a federal environmental review process required before it moves to construction.

The project is already two years behind schedule, but Alexandria officials say they anticipate construction to begin in 2016, with an opening by late 2018.

The Federal Transit Administration, which oversees the environmental review, and the city of Alexandria had looked at about three dozen options and most recently had focused on four sites.  City officials announced recently that the two most expensive and least viable options have been nixed, leaving two options that city officials say are financially feasible.

The first option would put the station at ground-level near the Potomac Greens neighborhood, farthest from the Potomac Yard retail center and the areas of densest development.  The other option puts the station closer to the retail center but it would be partly on National Park Service land and intrude on a scenic easement.

Alexandria wants to build the new Metro station on the Blue and Yellow lines between the Reagan National Airport and Braddock Road Metro stations to boost transit options and encourage further growth in booming Potomac Yard. City officials say the Metro station is critical to its vision for the 295-acre former railroad yard immediately south of the airport and downtown Washington that is being transformed into an urban center with residential, commercial and office development.

With only two sites under consideration, city officials say the project is on track for construction.

“It will be easier to get the environmental statement done because we can focus just on the A and B alternatives.  It allows us to focus on what will be the real debating issues — the pros and cons of A and the pros and cons of B,” said Deputy City Manager Mark Jinks.  “This way we can get to a decision point earlier.”

The site near the Potomac Greens neighborhood was reserved for a Metro station more than a decade ago, but the second site has been viewed as the preferred option because it would place Metro where there would be greater density in an area  envisioned as a vibrant mixed-use development.

Officials said the two eliminated options presented complications.  One put the Metro station where the Regal Potomac Yard movie theater is now, would require moving some CSX train tracks and would add millions to the project’s cost and years to the construction timetable.  The other option was to build an elevated station for $493 million. The cost was not financially feasible, Jinks said.

Questions remain about how the project will be financed and the impact of the construction on nearby residents, the overall development of Potomac Yard and the scenic views from the George Washington Memorial Parkway.  The city is in the process of finalizing a financial analysis for the project, officials said.

Here are details about the alternatives under consideration:

●Alternative A: Between the CSX railroad tracks and the north end of the Potomac Greens neighborhood. The station would be at-grade with a side-platform layout (putting platforms outside the tracks). Additional facilities would include two pedestrian bridges from the station over the CSX right-of-way to the planned development in Potomac Yard and pedestrian access to the Potomac Greens and Old Town Greens neighborhoods. This option would cost an estimated $209 million and would probably have the smallest effect on the view from the George Washington Memorial Parkway. But the station would be far from the existing Potomac Yard retail center and the densest area of Potomac Yard.

●Alternative B: Between the GW Parkway and the CSX tracks, north of Potomac Greens and east of the existing Potomac Yard Retail Center and CSX right-of-way. The station would be at-grade, with a side-platform layout. Additional station facilities would include two pedestrian bridges from the station over the CSX right-of-way to the planned development in Potomac Yard and a pedestrian bridge to provide access to Potomac Greens and Old Town Greens. This option would cost an estimated $268 million. It also appears to be the preferred option, but it would put the station partly on National Park Service land and intrude on a scenic easement.

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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