The District Department of Transportation is about to launch an 18-month reconstruction of Columbus Plaza and Massachusetts Avenue in front of Union Station.

Aside from its downtrodden appearance compared to the magnificent train station, the plaza is confusing for the thousands of pedestrians and motorists who use it each day. As part of the $7.8 million project, DDOT said, the plaza will be reconfigured to improve access and safety.

The new traffic pattern will allow vehicles to loop around the plaza as they enter and exit Union Station. Vehicles will no longer need to travel through the middle of it to leave the station.

New sidewalks will be added to create safer passages for pedestrians, and upgrades to the traffic signals should improve the flow of pedestrians and vehicles throughout the plaza, DDOT said.

As a security measure, a bollard barrier system will also be installed along the perimeter of the station.

The project, which has been discussed and planned for years, is scheduled to begin Monday.

One of the complicating factors about any initiative at Union Station is the number of agencies and interests involved in planning for this D.C. transportation hub.

The construction project will be managed by DDOT, but the D.C. agency noted that it’s in a partnership that includes Amtrak, the Architect of the Capitol, the National Park Service, the Union Station Redevelopment Corp. and Metro.

Post reporter Mary Beth Sheridan’s 2008 article on the project included a good description of one of the key goals: Thomas Luebke, secretary of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, which is another of the interested parties, said the idea is to have the space in front of the station “be more about a plaza and less about trying to walk across nine lines of vehicle traffic.”

DDOT said the work area will include the roadway adjacent to Union Station on the east and west sides, Columbus Circle; First Street NE between Massachusetts Avenue and G Street, Columbus Drive NE between Massachusetts Avenue and F Street and the streets that intersect Massachusetts Avenue at Columbus Circle.

During construction, the bus, car and taxi drop-off lanes in front of the station will remain open. Traffic lanes on Massachusetts Avenue and around the plaza will be reduced as necessary, DDOT said. Temporary walkways and crossings will be marked.

While work on the plaza doesn’t involve the parts of the station where Amtrak, MARC, VRE and Metro operate, DDOT is advising train riders to allow for some additional time in getting into the station.

Some Metrobus and D.C. Circulator stops right around the work zone will be temporarily disrupted during the project.

Also this fall, the Union Station Redevelopment Corp. will be working on collecting most of the intercity buses serving D.C. into a new bus hub in the station’s garage.