DC’s Union Station Undergoing Megaproject

40 million people pass through Union Station a year.

Source : Flickr

April 10, 2024

Author : Alex Bustillos

If you've traveled by bus or rail to DC, it's likely you've passed through Union Station.  A stone's throw from the US Capitol building, it has been functional and serving passengers since 1907.

Even though it is in the heart of our great nation, it suffers from poor maintenance and funding issues. Union Station is the second-busiest terminal in the US, and passengers using Amtrak, MARC, VRE, Metro, and Greyhound all pass through it. 

This multi-modal hub will undergo an estimated $8.8 billion overhaul and is being called the Washington Union State Expansion Project. This project will help increase rail capacity, reliability, safety, efficiency, accessibility, and security for both modern and future commuter needs. This new upgrade will help meet the station's growing operational needs, which are already bursting at the seams. 

It will also help to meet compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and emergency egress requirements and provide a positive customer experience while preserving the station's historic elements.

The project has been in the planning phase for almost nine years now, and only on March 12th of this year has the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) signed the combined Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)/ Record of Decision (ROD), and the Final Section 4(f) Evaluation. 

The nonprofit Union Station Redevelopment Corporation (USRC) is the project sponsor and will coordinate with Amtrak. USRC will implement the project through the final design and construction phase and undertake any project mitigation measures.

The USRC is the landlord and public steward for Washington Union Station, while the FRA owns the Station building. At the same time, Amtrak owns the platform and tracks and subleases 13% of the building.

Grimshaw Architects of London is directing the project design alongside Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners of New York City, Arup and Watertown of London, and VHB from Massachusetts. 

The recent plans show that newer and wider platforms will join the main hall of the station. A new train hall will be built behind the current structure and will have the following features:

  • Modern tracks and platforms
  • Bus facility
  • New retail space
  • Underground garage and pick-up/drop-off area

The project is set to be completed by 2040, and construction will commence from 2027. 

The project is already behind schedule, and funding remains uncertain, especially given the District's and the regional transportation authority's (Metro) significant budget challenges. The project might potentially benefit from money set aside for Amtrak expansion in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill signed by President Biden in 2021, but USCR cannot apply for those funds until the pre-construction phase is completed. 

“This is an important milestone for the future transformation of Union Station. As sponsor of this once-in-a-lifetime project, we realize this is just the first of several significant steps ahead of us,” explained USRC CEO and President Doug Carr.

The station's renovation is not the only project at risk. If and when the construction begins, it will allow the adjacent 3.7 million-square-foot mixed-use complex, known as Burnham Place, to proceed. That project, which has been in the works for over 20 years, would include a dozen structures along 15 acres of airspace owned by developer Akridge above the station's rail tracks. 

Some challenges that the public and authorities might face during this construction period are:

  • 3 acres of Akridge’s air rights have to be acquired
  • Temporary road closures which can lead to heavy traffic in the neighborhood
  • Reduction of parking revenue

This redevelopment effort will benefit not just the DC economy but those of Maryland and Virginia as well.

Category : Investment in Infrastructure Public Works Railroads

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