IF FRUGALITY, a sense of history and the wisdom
of Congress can prevail through a House hearing today and on through prompt approval of a sound Senate-passed bill, America can begin to unload a celebrated white elephant: Union Station, a.k.a. National Visitor Center, Hulk on the Hill and Great Dollar Sinkhole. The purpose of today's consideration is to return this once-grand railroad station--ravaged by an incredible series of monumental miscalculations over the years--to its original function as an attractive and financially and structurally sound terminal.
Union Station is none of the above at this point. Trains may stop there, but the buck never has; right now, taxpayers are shelling out $3.5 million a year for a lease on this site, as is--which is disgraceful. The legislation before the House is a modest, bipartisan attempt to stop this financial waste and pave the way for a commercially successful project. The thrust of the legislation, if not every detail, is a credit to Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis and key congressional leaders from both houses, who recognize the urgency that should attach to stopping this insane financial drain.
Essentially the bill would transfer jurisdiction over the site to the Transportation Department, ending an awkward partnership with the Interior Department that only served to encourage the downpouring of good money after bad. Studies--serious, specific recommendations leading to blueprints--would be completed within a year to determine the extent of structural work necessary, what to do with office space in the facility and how commercial space might be used in and around the station.
There are details of the pending bill that the Transportation Department may seek to alter, to allow more flexibility in the land use and in the modest financing needed to get going. But the measure already allows for modifications--changes that might best be made once the called-for study is complete. To toy with the measure now is to risk another bath of red ink--and taxpayers have been soaked on this one for too long already.