“This is a significant, transformational project,” Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson (D) said. “By bringing a new Metro station in here, we are shaping the type of development that is going to be happening in Potomac Yard for generations to come.”
The project has been in the works for a quarter of a century and is a key piece of the city’s plan for Potomac Yard, a 295-acre former railroad yard immediately south of Reagan National Airport and downtown Washington that is being transformed into an urban center.
The station is Alexandria’s largest economic development and transportation initiative, expected to generate billions in new development in coming years, supporting 26,000 new jobs and 13,000 new residents.
Alexandria officials say the transit station will be the catalyst of 7.5 million square feet of mixed-use development in north Potomac Yard. Several organizations, including the Institute for Defense Analyses and National Industries for the Blind, are establishing headquarters at Potomac Yard. Virginia Tech has announced a $1 billion Innovation Campus in proximity to the station at a planned 65-acre mixed-use and innovation district. And the new Amazon headquarters is in nearby Crystal City.
Construction crews have been at the site since the spring, doing mostly preliminary work and staging construction facilities. Construction is expected to pick up near the train tracks now that the project has secured all the necessary permits to build on wetlands, including final approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued last month.
The station is being built on Metro's Blue and Yellow lines, between the Braddock Road and Reagan National Airport stations. It is just east of the existing Potomac Yard Retail Center, on a site north of the Potomac Greens townhouse community, between the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the CSX railroad tracks.
Metro is overseeing construction of the project, and Alexandria is paying for it through a variety of sources, including state and federal grants, revenue from a special tax district, and developer contributions.
Monica Backmon, executive director of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, which allocated nearly $70 million in funding for the project, said the investment will not only spur economic development in the area, but also reduce congestion. Building the station could shift as many as 6,700 daily vehicle trips to transit and generate about 11,300 weekday boardings by 2040, according to project estimates.
“It provides another choice and gets a lot of single-occupancy vehicles off the road,” Backmon said.
Thursday’s groundbreaking was attended by hundreds of people, including residents and current and former elected officials. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) praised the project, calling it a “world-class station” that will be part of the solution to reduce traffic jams.
“We cannot pave our way out of congestion,” Northam said. “This station will help accommodate growing demand on the Route 1 corridor, and it will serve Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus along with Amazon HQ2, along with new businesses.”
Potomac Yard is one of seven stations under construction and will be the system’s 98th station when it opens. Metro has 91 stations and is adding six with Phase 2 of the Silver Line project.
The project moving forward is a scaled-back version of the station the city originally envisioned to have open by 2016. Its price tag also has grown significantly in recent years, going from $268 million to $320 million. City leaders blame the increases on the rising cost of building materials and labor.
The higher cost meant the city had to scrap the station’s south entrance to save money. The city agreed to create an access point to the south after backlash from residents and businesses in south Potomac Yard, but there is no clear path to restoring the second entrance.
A $50 million state grant announced a year ago as part of the incentives to bring Amazon to Northern Virginia would reinstate the station’s second entrance. Alexandria officials say cost estimates for three possible options all exceeded the $50 million budget. As the project moves forward, city officials say if they can’t get the contractor to reduce costs, the construction may proceed with a scaled-back design and the city may wait and add the second entrance in the future.
Despite the protests over the second entrance, officials say getting to this week is a major victory after overcoming many hurdles. The project proved to be extremely difficult because it required long negotiations over national parkland, impacts on scenic easements from the George Washington Parkway, construction on wetlands and issues related to the flight path at National Airport.
“Many constraints on that site made this terribly complex,” Wilson said, recalling that back in the mid-1990s when the city first discussed it, the cost was estimated at $75 million and that just over a decade ago, it was just a plan with no financing.
“To be at this point is very, very exciting,” he said. “It is a big deal for us.”