Union Station Can’t Get It Together
The transit world was abuzz yesterday with news of the Obama administration's $2 billion worth of improvements for high-speed rail service in the Northeast Corridor, Midwest, and California. Guess who missed out? The District, of course.
Specifically, Union Station, which hasn't had major infrastructure improvements since the 1980s, and has only increased Metro station capacity by one escalator and one elevator since 1976. Since 2009, the District Department of Transportation has been working on plans to overhaul the station with access and capacity improvements. It's a $36 million project, none of which is funded yet, and the District had been hoping that the feds might kick in $12 million with this round of funding. Here's the scope of work, via DDOT:
The District Department of Transportation submitted a final design and construction project for a series of Union Station access and capacity improvements. The project, prepared in conjunction with the Union Station Redevelopment Corp. and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, would improve access between the Union Station Metrorail station and the Amtrak train concourse, construct additional elevators and escalators to improve vertical access, complete a partially-built pedestrian passageway from Union Station to H Street, NE and build elevators to connect the passageway to the H Street bridge and busy WMATA bus routes along H Street. The work will also provide a direct passenger connection between Union Station and the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line.
So, that's not happening for a while.
It's disappointing to see the District miss out on yet another transit-related grant, after whiffing on the TIGER II round as well. At a streetcar forum on April 20, DDOT's Scott Kubly noted this has a lot to do with D.C.'s lack of voting representation; Eleanor Holmes Norton just doesn't have the pull of New York's congressional delegation in these processes.
In the mean time, I wonder whether this will affect the discussion between Amtrak and DDOT over the eventual terminus of the H Street/Benning Road streetcar at Union Station. Amtrak itself has been quiet about its side of the negotiations—in response to a question about what considerations were in play, a spokeswoman just sent over the following statement: "Amtrak is currently in discussion with the District to find a satisfactory solution that will support both the District’s objectives with respect to the streetcar line and Amtrak’s need to improve the capacity and level of existing and future passenger rail service."
The "future passenger rail service" is what didn't get funded in this round. So, speculatively, it will be difficult for Amtrak to know what it might be able to build in the future—and DDOT needs Amtrak to figure that out and commit to an agreement by the end of the summer, if streetcars are to get rolling on schedule.
The $36 million slate of improvements does not include the proposed "pit" in the floor of Great Hall, which preservationists raised a ruckus over last summer and haven't heard anything about since. "The cuts in the main floor are still being discussed," emailed a spokeswoman from the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation. "At this point all the stakeholders concerns and issues are being considered to reach a design solution."
Somewhat tangentially, the Redevelopment Corporation has been irritating Norton for a few years now, but she was particularly vituperative when talking to me a few weeks ago about their failure to incorporate intercity bus lines into the station. "It's an outrage that Union Station's not moved beyond the so-called pilot," she said, speaking of the program launched at the beginning of 2010. "Union Station is really out of it. I could not be more unsatisfied with Union Station management... They're stuck, and for no reasons. During the four years when the Democrats were in control of Congress, we had to have countless meetings and hearings. That's how we got this pilot program. They have no vision. They've failed to submit a final master plan. It can't continue."
All in all, a sad situation. I'll be writing more about this in the future, so if you've got particular information or insight, please send it my way: firstname.lastname@example.org.