Union Station overhaul removes parking bays and adds underground facility

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The Federal Railroad Administration overhauled major aspects of Washington’s Union Station redevelopment project, eliminating a parking garage as part of the redesign.

Revised plan for multibillion-dollar station expansion eliminates six-story garage, drastically reducing parking and moving parking area to new underground facility that would also serve as passenger location pickups and drop-offs. The new details were unveiled at a recent meeting of the National Capital Planning Commission.

The changes also include a major reconfiguration of the station’s bus terminal to align with a new train concourse, the Federal Railroad Administration confirmed this week.

The changes come more than a year after the FRA paused its environmental review of the project to modify the design, which was widely criticized for keeping the station too car-centric. The revisions are a victory for the district, which chastised the design favored by the federal agency as not matching the city’s vision for Union Station.

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Few details of the revisions have been made available, but the FRA is expected to unveil the plan in the coming weeks. The agency said the revised plan is the result of two years of working with Amtrak project developers and the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, which manages and operates Union Station.

The Union Station expansion project — a $10 billion private and public investment — envisions a transformation of the nation’s second-largest rail hub by 2040. The project would add a new train concourse and lobbies, as well as tracks and retail options.

“With these core elements retained and these new modifications, the project is on a much stronger footing to progress into 2022 and beyond,” the FRA said in a statement.

The agency is leading the federal review of the project, which is at least two years behind schedule. The revised plan could be published this summer for public comment, with a final decision next year. After that, the project could enter the design phase, possibly followed by a over a decade of construction.

The new changes respond to criticism from federal planners, district officials and nearby residents who said the FRA’s preferred building option – unveiled two years ago as part of a draft declaration of environmental impact – was too car-oriented, lacked good pedestrian and cycle links, and did not provide adequate access. Residents and city leaders have called for less parking and better traffic management. vehicle traffic, including a space dedicated to taxi and VTC services.

Project officials for months hinted at a resolution that addressed the concerns. Beverley Swaim-Staley, president and CEO of the USRC, said in February that the group had been working for 18 months to incorporate “valuable feedback”.

“All of these changes will allow the station to accommodate the next century of growth in a multi-modal transportation route, which includes intercity rail, metro, commuter rail and intercity bus,” she said during the talk. a meeting sponsored by DC Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (RE).

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DC Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who led the effort against the parking structure, said he welcomed the reduced option, adding that the move would leave more space above soil for development.

“Taking back valuable parking space to provide bus service, train service and shared spaces will restore Union Station to its glory as one of the nation’s most iconic and important stations,” it said. he said in a statement. “We are rebuilding a major public transit hub in the center of our city that will last for the next 100 years, and basically as busy every day as any of our regional airports.”

Union Station, which opened in 1907, was designated a historic landmark by the district in 1964 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.

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The station hasn’t seen a major rehabilitation in decades, and rail and local authorities say refurbishment is needed to meet future demand. Many station facilities are outdated, do not meet federal accessibility requirements, and do not meet modern transportation standards. Amtrak estimates that about $75 million in deferred maintenance is needed at Union Station, which houses the passenger railroad, Metro, Maryland and Virginia commuter trains, as well as intercity and local buses. It is also the terminus of the DC Streetcar.

Amtrak filed a petition last month to use eminent domain to take control of the station from a private company that holds sublease rights to the station through 2084. Amtrak said the move was necessary to ensure a smooth expansion process.

The proposed expansion is one of several major station projects on Amtrak’s list of capital priorities, ranking among the top candidates for federal funds through the infrastructure package signed by President Biden l ‘last year. About $66 billion is earmarked for rail transportation five years, while the project could also use millions of additional dollars available for public transit and other infrastructure projects.

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The last revisions are likely to increase the price of the project. In its draft environmental impact statement, the FRA waived concepts that included underground parking or other underground facilities, in part because it would add millions of dollars and years of construction. He chose a plan that included “minimal excavation below lobby level”, the quickest and least expensive option.

The federal review estimated that the construction of this shorter plan would be done in phases and could take up to 11 and a half years. It was unclear how much the schedule would change with the latest revisions.

The FRA said its incorporation of an underground facility would better manage pick-up and drop-off activities at the station while relieving traffic from surrounding streets.

“While this change will impact the upfront cost, it addresses many of the challenges associated with expanding regional access to Central Washington DC, and we believe the impacts of this new strategy will benefit the community and to the many citizens using this historic multimodal transportation hub in the long term,” the agency said in a statement.

The FRA’s initial plan called for 1,575 parking spaces, compared to the current 2,200. This would have been consistent with what is available at Philadelphia and Boston stations, according to project documents. However, New York’s Penn Station and many other stations in the United States and around the world do not have on-site parking.

City leaders said the multi-level replacement garage runs counter to the city’s efforts to reduce car travel. Among those who sent letters of opposition to the federal agency were Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and Norton. The National Capital Planning Commission, which oversees project zoning and provides planning guidance for federal land and buildings in the Washington area, also asked the FRA to include a parking program that “significantly reduces parking “.

The revised concept is expected to reduce parking by nearly 50% of nearly 1,600 spaces, planning commission officials said.

Anita Cozart, acting director of the DC Office of Planning, recently welcomed the response to the city’s comments, saying the FRA, Amtrak and USRC had listened to the plans for review, particularly in regards to improving the parking, bus installation and vehicle access to the station.

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