IT HAS BEEN several moons since we last waded through the rainwater ponds at leaky old Union Station, but just up the block from this infamous Monument to Bureaucratic Catatonia is a Senate committee room, where we find legislative evidence that help may be on the way at last for the dilapidated structure. Not only does Congress appear to be reaching a consensus that Union Station should again be a real, live transportation hub -- instead of an open-pit visitor center with trains in the back room -- but, in addition, the administration agrees.
Precisely how the Great Face-Lifting will be paid for is still subject to negotiation, since the Department of Transportation opposes using any money already in hand, as called for in pending legislation. Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis says the administration favors treating Union Station on its merits, as a project "worthy of separate, independent funding authorization." He also wants cost estimates that are "solid."
Almost anything would be more solid than the building, which these days looks like an astrodome with compound fractures. Immediate financing, whether by transfers of existing money or quick passage of a separate bill, is essential -- not just to save the building but also to cut losses, since the government is still paying on its lease.
To complete the cast of the rescue squad, the District government and private developers would be called in, as well. Legislation would permit the use of money due the District from federal highway funds, to complete parking facilities, a proposal the city government supports; and a separate bill would prove money to finish work on the leaky roof. There are provisions, too, for private development of a large portion of the station as an office-store complex.
Can all of these parts come together? Will the various congressional actions, executive decisions and local responses mesh to put Union Station back together again? They can -- if only the inconclusive autopsies can be halted in favor of fast action to cut those losses.