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Union Station overhaul removes parking lots, adds underground facility

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The Federal Railroad Administration has revised key aspects of the proposed redevelopment of Washington’s Union Station, eliminating a parking garage as part of the overhaul.

The revised multi-billion dollar expansion plan of the station eliminates a six-story garage, significantly reducing parking space and moving the parking area to a new underground facility that would also serve as a place for passengers pickups and deliveries. The new details were revealed at a recent meeting of the National Capital Planning Commission.

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

The changes come more than a year after FRA paused its environmental review of the project to change the design, which was widely criticized for keeping the station too car-centric. The revisions are a victory for the district, which reprimanded the design favored by the federal agency for being flawed compared to the city’s vision for Union Station.

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

The proposed expansion of Union Station – a $ 10 billion private and public investment – envisages a transformation of the country’s second largest railway hub by 2040. The project will add a new train hall and courses, as well as courses and retail options.

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

The agency is conducting the federal review of the project, which is at least two years late. The revised plan could be released this summer for public comment, with a final decision next year. After this, the project could enter the design phase, possibly followed by more than 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 environmental impact statement – was too focused on cars, lacking good pedestrian and bicycle links, and failed to provide adequate access. Residents and city leaders asked for less parking and better management vehicle traffic, including dedicated space for taxi and driving services.

Project officials have for several months hinted at a decision that responded to 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 enable the station to accommodate the growth of the next century in a multimodal transit way that includes intercity railways, Metrorail, commuter trains and intercity buses,” she said at a meeting sponsored by DC Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D).

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

“Taking precious space back from parking to provide bus service, train service and shared spaces will restore Union Station to its glory as one of the country’s iconic and great stations,” he said in a statement. “We are rebuilding a major transit hub in the center of our city that will stand for the next 100 years and pretty much 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 in the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.

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The station has not had a major rehabilitation in decades, and railway and local officials say a makeover is needed to meet future demand. Many of the station’s facilities are outdated, do not meet federal accessibility requirements and do not live up to modern transportation standards. Amtrak estimates that there is a need for about $ 75 million in deferred maintenance at Union Station, which houses the passenger rail, Metro, Maryland and Virginia commuter trains, as well as intercity and local buses. It is also the terminus of the DC Streetcar.

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

The proposed expansion is one of several major station projects on Amtrak’s list of capital priorities that ranks as a top challenger to federal money through the infrastructure package signed by President Biden last year. About $ 66 billion is earmarked for railroad crossings five years, while the project could also spend millions of additional dollars available on transit and other infrastructure projects.

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The latest revisions are likely to increase the price tag of the project. In its draft environmental impact statement, FRA opted out of concepts that included underground parking or other lower-quality facilities, in part because they would add millions of dollars and construction years. It chose a plan that included “minimal excavation below hall level”, the fastest and cheapest solution.

The federal review estimated the construction of the shorter plan would be carried out in phases and could take up to 11½ years. It was unclear how much the timeline would change with recent revisions.

FROM said its incorporation of an underground facility would better cope with pick-up and drop-off activity at the station while relieving surrounding streets of traffic.

“While this change will affect start-up costs, it addresses many of the challenges of expanding regional access in downtown Washington DC, and we believe the impact of this new strategy will benefit society and the many citizens using this historic multimodal transportation hub. in the long run, “the agency said in a statement.

FRA’s original plan required 1,575 parking spaces, down from the existing 2,200. That would have been in line with what’s available at stations in Philadelphia and Boston, according to project documents. However, New York’s Penn Station and many other train stations throughout the United States and the world do not have on-site parking.

City leaders said the multi-level replacement garage was at odds with the city’s efforts to reduce car traffic. Among those sending letters in opposition to the federal agency were Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and Norton. The National Capital Planning Commission, which oversees the project and provides planning guidance for federal lands and buildings in the Washington region, also asked the FRA to include a parking program that “significantly reduces parking.”

The revised concept is expected to reduce the parking garage by nearly 1,600 spaces by as much as 50 percent, Planning Commission officials said.

Anita Cozart, interim director of the DC Office of Planning, recently praised the response to the city’s feedback, saying the FRA, Amtrak and USRC had listened to revise the plans, particularly related to parking improvements, the bus facility and vehicle access to the station.

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