HOLD YOUR APPLAUSE for now, but we may
soon hear the final trumpet of that great white elephant we once knew and loved as Union Station. Without going into the depressing and outlandishly expensive details of how this once-grand train terminal was trampled to near-rubble by a herd of mischievous bureaucrats, we are pleased to note that a financially and stucturally sound Union Station may live again, thanks to a bipartisan effort that is due for its first congressional consideration today.
Coming up for action by a Senate committee is a bill worked out and supported by Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis and key congressional leaders from both sides of the Hill as well as its aisles. The basic idea is to 1)stop an insane financial drain on all U.S. taxpayers; 2)restore the building as quickly and as economically as possible, and 3)return the facility to its primary function as a lively and commercially successful transportation hub, instead of a broken-down and boarded-up "visitor center."
While the Interior Department would continue its open-pit surgery--fixing the roof and shoring things up--the bill being considered today would transfer jurisdiction to the Transportation Department, where it belongs. Studies--not the open- ended, made-for-distraction kind--would be completed within a year to determine what permanent structural work is necessary, what to do with office space in the facility and how commercial space might be used in and around the station. Recommendations would include consideration of other transportation facilities, such as a heliport and a terminal for various bus services.
The legislation is not--repeat not--simply another formula for pouring good money after bad. That's already happening, with taxpayers forking out $3.5 million a year for a lease on the place; this bill is a modest attempt to stop the waste and turn a financial sinkhole into the commercially successful and historically important landmark it once was.