ALL RIGHT, YOU'VE read the question above,
and the answer is yes--Union Station will collapse beyond resuscitation unless Congress and the administration act immediately to save this grand old American building, and cut the grand old American losses caused by years of kamikaze planning and bureaucratic cross-purposes. This is no cry of wolf, but a warning that a magnificent national treasure--with an honest reason for being--is about to be ruined. If the federal powers turn away from this project again this year, you can probably say goodbye to the station.
If you have taken or met a train at Union Station lately, you know the depressing story. So dilapidated and waterlogged is the main structure that passengers have to hike around the side to that sorry backroom excuse for a train terminal. And if that doesn't snap your spike heels or soak your socks, the trek to the tracks with a big bag is enough to drop a valedictorian from the Channel 7 exercise class.
But Union Station is--and should be--more than a train stop. It can be a lively transportation hub-- instead of a hollowed hall with an open pit that purports to be a visitors' center. It is clearly a project for the Transportation Department, and Secretary Drew Lewis is clearly interested in tackling the problem. While emergency repairs are being made to the roof, which is menacingly weak, Mr. Lewis is pressing for legislation that would start the process of developing a commercial office-store and transportation complex that could put the station on sound financial, as well as structural, footing. He has noted that a government partnership with private developers could "probably make this into a worthwhile commercial project," and has called the concept "exciting."
There have been signs of understanding in Congress, too, that some immediate money for Union Station would be well-spent--given the fact that taxpayers are coughing up $3.5 million a year for the lease already. If there are disagreements between the administration and Congress over precisely what kind of funds and how much should be sprung, so be it--but the face lifting cannot wait much longer.