ONE OF THE longest-running horror stories in Washington -- the incredible desecration of the once-great Union Station -- still haunts the halls of the federal bureaucracy and the Congress that first sanctioned this monumental abomination. As a series of articles by Blaine Harden has outlined in detail, the story has many villains, all eager to point the finger at each other for the degraded condition -- the ruin -- of what was, and should be again, an attractive and useful train station.
There is plenty of guilt to go around and it should be shared, from Capitol Hill to the White House and on through administrations of both parties. But rather than dwell on this dreadful history of converging miscalculations and expensive, unfinished business, we point to the urgent need to cut the losses and save the station. There is no time to reargue the case anyway, since the whole Union Station structure is crumbling at an alarming pace every day.The longer the delay in doing something, the more expensiv any solution will be.
There is a bill and it should be enacted right away, before Congress adjourns. In essence, the measure would bring back the train station that so many Americans knew and loved before it was turned into an empty movie set with a hole in the middle. There would again be an honest-to-goodness station with real trains that you could see whe you went in the door; there would be an efficient visitor center with attractive, rent-paying concessions of all kinds, instead of a forbidding counter in a sprawling hall covered by stained and scruffy carpeting; there would be fine restaurants, instead of a grim, grab-and-stand cafeteria; and there would be a modest garage for visitors' cars, instead of an unfinished skeleton hanging out in space.
To put off passage of this reasonable and amply deliberated compromise after all these years is to approve of still more waste -- including $3.5 million a year that U.S. taxpayers are shelling out just for the lease on the place. A vote for the bill, which has bipartisan support, is a vote against this expensive drain on the budget. Passage of the measure would return a national treasure to work. Enactment could not come a day too soon.