Alexandria hopes to build a new Metro station at Potomac Yard, but wetlands near the route and negotiations with the owner of adjacent rail tracks have stalled the planning process. Can this project get back on track?


Layout of one alternative of the Potomac Yard station. Image from the City of Alexandria.


The city has selected Potomac Yard as the location for the new infill station, to be located on the Blue and Yellow lines between National Airport and Braddock Road, and is evaluating four specific alternative sites. In May, the project hit its first delay when the environmental impact statement (EIS) team revealed that one of the alternative sites under consideration would impact land owned by the National Park Service. But the alternative has its own complications.

At that point, the Federal Transit Administration asked the EIS team to study ways to address the issues. They found that the best option would be to move a series of CSX rail tracks so that the station could be built farther west of the sensitive area, in between the relocated CSX tracks and the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Moving the tracks could potentially kill two birds with one stone by giving station designers flexibility to avoid encroaching on a scenic easement established in 1999 while addressing problems with adjacent wetlands. If the tracks stay where they are, the city will need to negotiate an agreement to build on the legally protected easement.

But while CSX has met with the city to explore the possibility of moving the tracks, negotiations won’t be quick or easy. After waiting four months, WMATA and the City of Alexandria only recently had the chance to meet with CSX for the first time. The EIS team can’t wrap up the study and move forward with the project until negotiations are completed.

The EIS team is studying three options and a no-build alternative for the Metro station site. Alternative A would cost approximately $200 million and place a station at ground level between the existing tracks and the George Washington Memorial Parkway, but would be located farther away from the Potomac Yard Shopping Center.

Alternative B, estimated to cost $250 million, would be closer to the shopping center, and have foot paths to it and the adjacent Potomac Greens neighborhood. Alternative D is an aerial station, which would cost almost twice as much.

While city staff emphasize that no decisions will be made until after the EIS is complete, the city and the business community have expressed interest in Alternative B because it is one of the less expensive options and would provide the best access to existing planned development. CPYR, the owner of the nearby Potomac Yard Shopping Center, has agreed to contribute approximately $50 million toward the project if the city chooses Alternative B.

Because there are still so many uncertainties about if and when the city and CSX will reach an agreement, the original timeline for the project is slipping. The city initially hoped to start construction on the station in 2014 and open it by mid-2017, but now there is no longer an estimated start date for the project.

Editors’ note: The original version of this post inaccurately suggested that Alexandria has selected a preferred site for the station. This is incorrect, and the text has been updated to reflect this and other minor corrections.

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Mitch Margolis just finished the Digital Advocacy internship at the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Mitch has an MA in English from the University of Florida, but he’s currently trading in his pen for a pair of walking shoes, exploring cities and urban life abroad.