The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Federal officials are rethinking Union Station’s redevelopment plans. That’s good news.

Union Station in D.C. in November 2019. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

FEDERAL TRANSPORTATION officials have announced they will go back to the drawing board before proceeding with a multibillion-dollar redevelopment of Union Station. That is welcome news. This once-in-a-generation project in the heart of D.C. needs to be done right, and plans developed by the Trump administration ran counter to the desire of local officials and residents for a transportation hub that not only served the needs of travelers but also would be fully integrated into the life of surrounding neighborhoods.

The Federal Railroad Administration announced last week that it is reconsidering the contents of its draft environment statement rather than moving forward with any alternatives at this time. The proposed project — a $10 billion private and public investment — envisions a transformation of the train station by 2040 into a world-class, multimodal transit hub with a new train hall, spacious and airy platforms and concourses with shops and restaurants allowing easy access to Metro, buses, taxis, ride-shares, streetcars and parking.

The draft plan released in 2019 came under withering criticism — including from the developer, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and the National Capital Planning Commission — because of its liberal provisions for parking. Critics of the plan, noting that most passengers and visitors don’t get to the station by private vehicle, argued the proposed multilevel parking garage wasn’t needed and would encourage car traffic. The result, said D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), would produce more of the same: “an island cut off from the surrounding area by busy, noisy streets.” Also faulted was the lack of good pedestrian and bicycle connections. The federal plan, Ms. Bowser wrote to the agency, “is built on outdated 20th century ideals and approaches, including an unnecessary emphasis on single-occupancy vehicles and their storage.”

It is unclear whether it was the widespread criticism from local officials and stakeholders or the ushering in of the Biden administration that prompted the Federal Railroad Administration to revisit its plans. D.C. officials suspect it may have been a combination of both. What’s most important, though, is that federal officials realized they were on the wrong track. Going forward, they should work with local officials on a plan that will anticipate and best serve the travel needs of future generations.

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