For the past three years CHRS has participated in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) undertaken by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for the expansion of the Union Station Rail Terminal.Union Station Expansion “Fact Sheet” as prepared by the Federal Railway Association(FRA). More information can be found at WUSstationexpansion.com. Of particular interest is the Updated Action Alternative Diagrams (dated 11/2018).
In the Spring of 2019, CHRS and the public will be invited to review and comment on design alternatives for the Federal component of the station expansion. It is important to understand that the on-going EIS is limited to only the Federal portion. Other closely related projects that will transform this area include the District’s rebuilding of the H Street Bridge and particularly Akridge’s 3 million sq. ft. Burnham Place project.
CHRS has criticized FRA’s limited scope of the EIS from the very beginning. By limiting consideration to only the Federal element, the usefulness of the EIS is curtailed and perhaps even renders it a largely meaningless exercise. Even worse, the “preferred alternative” will likely hamper more creative design possibilities that could be evaluated if the Union Station/Burnham Place/H Street Bridge project was considered in its entirety. We offer the following brief history of the project.
The roots of this project go back to before 2002 when Akridge purchased 14 acres of air rights in a deal that closed in 2006. The three principal elements – the FRA’s Union Station Expansion Project, the District’s H Street Bridge project, and Akridge’s Burnham Place project – are linked together in myriad ways. Nevertheless, FRA’s EIS assumes that the H Street Bridge and Burnham Place projects are irrelevant within the EIS process. This is despite the obvious fact that they must be designed and constructed in concert. Both individually and collectively these projects entail significant impacts, especially during construction and for traffic congestion into the foreseeable future. While FRA anticipates more than doubling interstate rail, bus and other passengers in and out of an enlarged Union Station, they have not provided any traffic study for the three, already highly congested commercial surface routes — H Street, Massachusetts Avenue and North Capitol — nor for surrounding residential streets. Further, these intertwined projects cannot realistically be considered separately. As just one example, in order to accommodate the foundation and columns for Burnham Place, the Station “expansion” actually reduces the number of concourses. Nevertheless, we are asked to proceed as if these projects are un-related and our comments are constrained to the alternatives presented for only the Federal undertaking as described within the EIS.
There will be a 45 day review period after the publication of the Draft EIS in the Spring of 2019. Between now and then it is very important that the public become better informed, attend the public meetings, and comment on the Draft EIS. Although we consider this EIS fundamentally flawed, it remains necessary that we comment on the Draft EIS. The implications for Burnham Place will not be evident within the draft EIS, so we will need to visualize what each of FRA’s alternatives might entail for the entire project. In reviewing the various alternatives it is essential to ask “what does this alternative mean for Burnham Place”?