FINISHING TOUCHES are being put on plans to modernize Union Station and remake it into a world-class transit hub. The project has been more than a decade in the making and is seen as a singular economic and transportation opportunity for D.C. and the region. But backers of the project, including business leaders, are worried that the federal government may not commit the needed funds. That could undermine what many see as a once-in-a-generation chance to improve this critical travel center and reap its economic benefits.
More than 100 representatives of businesses and nonprofits from the Washington region, including the Federal City Council and the Greater Washington Board of Trade, recently wrote to President Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urging inclusion of Union Station in the administration’s infrastructure plans. The project — a $10.7 billion private and public investment — envisions a transformation of the station by 2035 with a new train hall, spacious platforms and concourses filled with shops and restaurants. The expansion would double the capacity for Amtrak and commuter rail service while improving the customer experience for all travelers with easy access to Metro, buses, taxis, ride-shares, streetcars and parking. The project will also promote development of the air rights over the station’s rail yard, underutilized space in the heart of the city for which there are far better economic uses.
It’s ironic that officials must beg for federal investment in the only federally owned train station in the country. Yet the station has not been upgraded since the 1990s. Now, a backlog of deferred maintenance endangers security, access and safety. “Without a serious upgrade,” the local business leaders wrote, “it will struggle to handle riders — and deliver national, regional, and local economic benefits.”
The Federal Railroad Administration, in partnership with Amtrak and the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, is nearing the end of a six-year environmental review process and is set this year to unveil final plans. Local officials criticized a draft released in 2019 under the Trump administration for favoring automobiles over the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and other non-car travelers. But those concerns have been largely resolved, and now the push is to secure a commitment of federal funding.
Mr. Biden long ago became a proponent of train travel. We hope that means he won’t need much convincing to understand why this project is so important and why funding for it must not be delayed.