Union Station in line for a $10 billion facelift, but questions remain

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Union Station is in line for its first major facelift in more than three decades, an investment that railroad and city officials say will help move more passenger trains through the busy Northeast Corridor while modernizing a vital gateway to the nation’s capital.

Plans for the 115-year-old railway center include updated concourses and tracks, more retail options, a new train concourse, and modern parking and bus facilities. The proposed expansion, of at least $10 billion in private and public spending, calls for a transformation of the nation’s second-busiest intercity rail hub by 2040.

The improvements would be the first since a $160 million restoration was completed in the late 1980s, when Union Station reopened as a train stop and 110-store mall to become a shopping destination. and restoration on Capitol Hill. That vibrancy has dissipated, leaving a station that some DC officials, neighbors and passengers describe as outdated, unwelcoming and unsafe.

“There’s no reason to go indoors if you’re not trying to catch a train,” said DC Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6). said.

Union Station has had a tough time. Can he be saved?

The Federal Railroad Administration released images of station plans this summer that show a spacious, bright atrium with large skylights and high ceilings. The station’s iconic main concourse – with its 96-foot-high ceilings lined with 23-karat gold – will be preserved. But a large part of the adjoining spaces will be redone to add larger rail platforms, a new bus terminal and updated concourses lined with shops and restaurants and with better access to metro, buses, taxis, ride-sharing services, trams and parking.

“Upgrading the station would expand existing transit systems, meeting ridership needs, contributing to economic growth and positioning the historic station as a premier multimodal transportation hub in the future,” said the Federal Railroad Administration, owner of Union Station, in a statement.

Although plans call for station upgrades to be completed in about 18 years, much of the timeline is unclear. The project’s federal environmental review, which began in 2015, is at least three years behind schedule. No funding has been secured for the renovation, according to the FRA, and such an expensive project, it said, “will require financial partners willing to invest”.

The FRA, which is leading the environmental review of the project, suspended the process for nearly two years to revise the plan and address concerns from federal planners, the city and residents that it was too car-centric. A revised plan unveiled this summer eliminated a six-story garage and moved parking and drop-off areas to an underground facility, which officials say will improve traffic flow around the station. Changes are likely to increase the cost of the project.

The FRA is expected to complete the review — a requirement to move the proposed redesign to construction — by the end of 2023. Once the federal approval process is complete, a thorough design phase is expected to take several years, officials said. project, eventually followed by more than a decade of construction.

A first look at plans for the new Union Station in DC

The revised plan includes a major reconfiguration of the bus station to align with a new train hall. The decision to move the underground parking lot frees up space that would be used to create a park and plazas. Directing some of the pickup and drop-off traffic below ground will help ease congestion off Columbus Circle. Additional pick-up space is provided at ground level next to H NE Street.

The project was proposed by Amtrak and Union Station Redevelopment Corp., which manages and operates Union Station under a long-term lease from the FRA. Plans call for a redesign of Amtrak’s second-busiest railroad station — after Penn Station in New York City — where many facilities date back to when DC Station opened in 1907.

The renovation would also triple passenger capacity and transform the station into a hub for high-speed rail. Project documents completed before the pandemic indicated that existing platforms and holding areas were at or above capacity.

Pedestrian traffic and train operations at the station have been reduced during the pandemic. Prior to 2020, Union Station had approximately 40 million visitors each year and was served by 85–90 intercity Amtrak trains per day. It is also the busiest public transit hub in the Washington area, connecting Amtrak, Metro, Virginia Railway Express, Maryland MARC commuter trains, and intercity and local buses.

Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods said the railroad is “working with public and private partners to explore all available funding opportunities for the project” and continues to work with the USRC and FRA. Earlier this year, Amtrak launched a legal campaign to take back lease rights held by Union Station Investco to the station, a move that some local and transportation officials say could help redevelopment efforts.

Amtrak takes control of Union Station

The project would allow separate private development in the airspace above the railway tracks. Developer Akridge plans to add up to a dozen buildings – with a mix of residential, office, hotel and cultural uses – along 15 acres of air rights it owns north of Union Station at K Street NE. The estimated $3 billion project, known as Burnham Place, depends on the redevelopment of the station.

The proposed expansion ranks among the top contenders in the Northeast Corridor for federal infrastructure money thanks to legislation President Biden signed last year. About $66 billion is earmarked for rail over five years, while the project could also use millions of additional dollars available for transit and other infrastructure projects.

DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) earlier this year stood inside the station to say the city was ready to work with the federal government, Amtrak and the USRC to get part of this funding for the redevelopment.

“The potential for this site is huge,” Bowser said. at the time.

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