The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is continuing to refine plans for the future of Union Station, which include preserving historical elements, facilitating inter-modal travel, and expanding rail capacity. On Thursday, March 22 the FRA is hosting a public meeting on the project’s Environmental Impact Statement.
Since the project’s last public meeting in October 2016, the project team sifted through the conceptual elements, which will inform the alternatives to be presented to the public on March 22. The FRA summarized these results and comments in their Concept Screening Report completed in July 2017.
Several elements of the plan have changed. The arrangement of the proposed new concourses has been scaled back from Amtrak’s 2012 Union Station Master Plan.
Now plans just use the H street railroad right-of-way, and there are fewer new pedestrian access points.
One common criticism of the plan is that it lumps together disparate elements that don’t need to share the same site, such as the massive parking garage and bus facility. FRA looked at alternative sites nearby for some facilities, but found that none would work for their purposes.
One common comment: why cram all this stuff (parking, bus garage, etc.) on a tiny site? Why not look at off-site facilities? So they did: pic.twitter.com/6i9dGiyKsT— a. block (@alex_block) March 14, 2018
One reason why none of the off-site locations meet FRA’s criteria is that the government owners of those sites would have to give them up voluntarily — and that’s a hard sale to make. The area around Union Station is particularly challenging given the desires of an executive branch agency (the FRA) looking at land owned by the legislative branch (Architect of the Capitol and Goverment Publishing Office).
Q: Why not just use all of those Architect of the Capitol lots?— a. block (@alex_block) March 14, 2018
A: because they said ‘no’
Institutional design and governance matter! Planning alone is no substitute for the back room politicking.... pic.twitter.com/UrQ33ReeFo
The FRA did adjust the size of the various program elements, however. The proposed bus deck is smaller, as are the total number of parking spaces.
Good news: they reduced the parking from an absurd 2,00 spaces.— a. block (@alex_block) March 14, 2018
Bad news: they’re still planning on 1,600 spaces, based mostly on current use.
good news: they open the door to reducing that level even more. pic.twitter.com/DQd1aEZM1G
The bus facility is shrinking, too. cc: @timkrepp— a. block (@alex_block) March 14, 2018
They project demand for ~50 bus slips, but won’t allow for any parking or layovers and thus will provide ~20-25 slips.
At this point, why continue to shoehorn this intercity bus facility into the train station? pic.twitter.com/5LJpZWaGRR
The Concept Screening Report also includes some fun glimpses into other planning efforts, such as WMATA’s long-range plans for a Metro loop. This image suggests WMATA planners have taken Matt Johnson’s suggestions to heart:
In answering why they can’t build under Columbus Circle, they show this WMATA graphic of a future 4-Track (!!!) Metro loop at Union Station... pic.twitter.com/I95wk32RAX— a. block (@alex_block) March 14, 2018
On Thursday, March 22 the FRA will present alternative designs to be studied further as a part of the draft Environmental Impact Statement. Materials will be presented in an open house format from 4-8 pm in Union Station’s East Hall and Presidential Room (the former B. Smith’s restaurant space). There will be formal presentations of the material at 4:30 pm and 6:30 pm.