The Post reported December 27, 2020 on the problems with the FRA plan for Union Station, citing many of the same issues that CHRS raised in our comments on the draft environmental impact statement that we filed in September 2020. See below.
December 27, 2020. A proposed expansion at Union Station would add concourses and tracks, broaden retail options, and improve bus and parking facilities. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)
By Luz Lazo
Dec. 17, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. UTC
The Union Station Redevelopment Corporation and Amtrak, the two proponents of a multibillion- dollar expansion of the District’s historic rail station, are urging the federal government to amend key aspects of the project that have been widely criticized as keeping the station too car-centric.
The USRC and the passenger railroad say the Federal Railroad Administration, which is leading the federal review of the project, should consider downsizing the parking program envisioned for Union Station, as well as the plan for vehicular and bus access.
The proposed expansion — a $10 billion private and public investment — would add concourses and tracks, broaden the retail options, and improve bus and parking facilities at the second-busiest rail station in the country. A replacement parking garage with 1,600 spaces would be attached to the station, according to the plan.
[D.C. at odds with federal government over multibillion-dollar redevelopment of Union Station] D.C. officials have been at odds with the FRA over that multilevel parking structure, saying it is counter to the city’s efforts to reduce automobile travel. City officials say the project’s preliminary design is too focused on cars, lacks good pedestrian and bike connections, and fails to provide adequate access for vehicles dropping off and picking up travelers. Among those who sent strong rebukes are Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D).
The FRA in a statement this fall said it “is considering the views of local officials” as it moves to complete an environmental review, which lays out a project’s impacts and outlines its design.
By 2040, under the proposed plan, the train station would be transformed into a multimodal transit hub with wide, spacious platforms, a new train hall with natural light, and modern concourses lined with shops and restaurants providing access to Metro, buses, taxis, ride-shares, streetcars and parking.
The USRC, which manages and operates Union Station, issued its strongest signal of support for the city’s stance in a letter to the FRA, in which the board pledged to work on modifications and said the FRA “should carefully assess the comments offered and make necessary changes.”
“The Board of Directors of USRC supports FRA’s revisiting the parking and surface transportation elements . . . including the pick-up/drop-off program, the bus facility, and undertaking additional technical analyses of the location and size of the parking garage for the [expansion Project] and the pick-up/drop-off program,” the USRC board said in a letter dated Nov. 4.
[Criticism mounts over proposed parking in Union Station’s $8 billion overhaul]
The USRC board said it supports moving the parking facility and pickup and drop-off location underground and downgrading the bus terminal to a single story, saying those changes “could well suit the future needs of the Station, while allowing for additional commercial development.”
The plan distributes pickup and drop-off traffic along different entrances at the station, which officials said will continue to create queuing on city streets. The project concept also includes a two- level bus facility with up to 40 bus slips and a six-level parking garage above the newly built bus facility with space for 1,600 cars.
In a separate letter, Amtrak also laid out concerns with the size and location of the parking and bus structure, as well as the pickup and drop-off program. The railroad in the past had said parking is not essential to its operations at Union Station.
“As we have now seen many of the comments submitted from other agencies and organizations throughout the city, it is clear these other entities are in alignment with our concerns,” David Handera, vice president of stations, facilities, properties and accessibility at Amtrak, said in a letter dated Nov. 23.
Handera called on the FRA to “make necessary changes” that reflect the comments received, including a smaller parking facility that is located underground.
The letters come as the FRA is under pressure to change aspects of the design before it issues a final decision that would bring the project closer to construction. The agency is reviewing more than 160 responses submitted during a comment period that closed in September and is expected to release a final recommendation next year.
The National Capital Planning Commission, which has zoning oversight of the project, also has asked the FRA to revise or update the proposal to include a program that “substantially reduces parking.” The D.C. State Historic Preservation Office called the plan for a six-story parking garage “a historic preservation concern because proximity to the grand historic station calls for higher, more active and compatible uses. Parking garages simply do not contribute to great civic spaces.” D.C. Planning Director Andrew Trueblood said in September that the project as proposed “appears to be on a path to failure” and listed concerns about parking, urban design, pickup and drop-off, and access to the station. His office recommended reducing parking to fewer than 300 spaces and including a dedicated space for pickups and drop-offs above or below ground to alleviate traffic impacts.
[Railroads near full implementation of lifesaving automatic-braking technology]
The FRA said the size of the parking program it recommended “was determined by assessing future parking demand based on current conditions and trends and projecting more than a doubling of intercity passengers using the expanded station.” It also noted that the replacement parking garage with nearly 1,600 spaces is about one-third less than what’s available today.
Maura Brophy, director of transportation and infrastructure at the Federal City Council and a member of the USRC board of directors, said she is hopeful the latest responses from the USRC and Amtrak will send another message to the FRA about the project’s priorities.
“I am encouraged by the attention that has been brought to the surface transportation elements of the proposal,” she said. “If fixed, we’ll have the chance to see a redeveloped Union Station that is a best-in-class multimodal transportation facility and civic center.”