A new Metro station in Alexandria’s growing Potomac Yard community is a step closer to reality with the release of a federal environmental impact study that says the project would spur economic development and boost transit.
The report, released last week by the Federal Transit Administration, details the station’s potential impact on the community, overall development, wetlands and views from the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
The station, which would connect to Metro’s Yellow and Blue lines between the Braddock Road and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport stations, is expected to drive development and add about 5,000 riders to the transit system. It will improve regional transit accessibility and increase the share of trips made by transit, bike and foot at Potomac Yard, the report said.
“Having a Metro station at Potomac Yard is an economic engine not only for the city, but for the entire region,” Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille (D) said last week at a Metro board meeting where the agency approved a hearing on the project. “Long overdue,but certainly we now are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel— or a train at the beginning of the tunnel.”
The station has a projected opening date of 2018. The city is studying four build options for the station, each with varying impacts on green space, wetlands and surrounding neighborhoods. The costs range from $228 million to $539 million.
City officials say funding for the project will come from a developer contribution, a special tax district for properties around the station, new tax revenue from development around the station, and $69 million from funds administered by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.
Of the four options, the least costly — a ground-level station near the Potomac Greens neighborhood — would put the station farthest from the existing Potomac Yard retail center and the areas of densest development. The other three options — two at ground level and one elevated — would put the station closer to the retail center but cost more, and all of them would be more damaging to scenic views from the parkway, according to the federal study.
The proposal that some have called the preferred option would intrude on the parkway’s scenic easement and require the purchase of 0.16 acres of parkway property from the National Park Service, the report said. But in a letter to the city, the Park Service says it would support the construction of the station pending a negotiation of a benefits agreement.
Tht option would cost up to $293 million and be built between the parkway and the CSX tracks north of Potomac Greens. Although it would fill about 1.22 acres of wetlands (and would have the most impact of all the alternatives), it also would support the greatest amount of development — about 13 million square feet around the station, according to the report.
The two most expensive alternatives, which are also the city’s least favorite, would require the displacement of the movie theater at the Potomac Yard Center shopping complex.
Construction at any of the proposed sites would impact the parkway, requiring the removal of trees and other vegetation. The station also will change the views for drivers along the historic parkway, the report concluded.
The federal document also identifies two potentially disruptive construction access options. The first will have access to construction staging areas from the parkway, likely requiring tree removal and creating temporary traffic disruptions. The other option would make the construction access point from the Potomac Green neighborhood, disturbing residences.
“We have been working on this project for quite some time, and this is a big milestone for us to get the [environmental impact study] so that the community has an opportunity to review the alternatives that are presented in the document,” said Sandra Marks, deputy transportation director for the city.
Once the city chooses a site for the station, it will choose a construction access option, Marks said. She said the plan is to minimize the impact on the community by limiting construction hours. If parkway access is chosen, the city would explore off-peak work and ensure that the roadway is never completely closed, she said.
City officials estimate the station will generate billions of dollars in new private-sector investment, leading to 26,000 new jobs within a quarter-mile of the station and 13,000 new residents within a half-mile.
The new station would add system-wide operating costs to Metro. Alexandria, which in fiscal year 2013 contributed about $10 million to Metro, would contribute an additional $1.3 million annually for the operating costs of Potomac Yard.
Some Metro officials say the Potomac Yard station could lead to a neighborhood revitalization similar to that of the District’s NoMa area.
“We have had great success with the NoMa station — it was transformative for that neighborhood,” Metro board member Harriet Tregoning told Euille at Thursday’s meeting. “I wish you the same impact in your community.”
Metro will hold a public hearing on the project April 30. Comments may be submitted until May 18, and residents can attend three community open houses within the next month to learn about the project. The Alexandria City Council will hold a public hearing May 16.