The City of Alexandria is scaling down plans for the Potomac Yard Metro station because the $320 million project is over budget. Under the new plans the south entrance will be removed, cancelling access from East Glebe Road and removing two ramps, a bicycle and pedestrian bridge, and park improvements.
The Alexandria Chamber released a statement Thursday afternoon saying the changes amounted to a breach of trust between the city, its residents, and developers — and that it would pursue “remedies” at the local, state, and federal level.
“The proposed changes deletion diminish the economic impact of the new metro station, but they also represent a violation of trust with the businesses and residents who have already invested in Potomac Yard based on the promise of a fully functioning metro station,” the statement reads. “To spring this on them now, when many already signed leases or begun construction, suggests a partner acting in bad faith.”
Nearby residents are upset that they will no longer have a Metro station within a close walk as promised, and they're within their rights to sue. Other communities (namely around the Purple Line) have filed lawsuits to ensure or preclude access to transit.
Insufficient Metro entrances have long been a problem
WMATA is no stranger to entrance issues. On opening day, the Gallery Place-Chinatown station (then just Gallery Place), failed to open on time because of a lawsuit by disability advocates who said it wasn’t accessible.
That lack of prioritizing accessiblility goes way back. Metro designer Henry Weese and founding director Jackson Graham famously scoffed at the need for extra elevators, escalators, and even bathrooms, history book The Great Society Subway shows, and the pair also came under fire for stating the lack of need for light. Low light makes navigation difficult for vision-impaired people who need more light to see, and those who are hard of hearing who rely on their vision to get around the station safely.
As new parts of Metro have been built, they are subject to different designers and even different building codes as lines cross into different jurisdictions. Many stations fail from having insufficient entrances, especially when one or more entrances are closed. Some have even been deemed safety hazards due to their construction.
This particular Potomac Yard entrance in Alexandria was adjacent to the future headquarters for the National Industries for the Blind. Now those workers, along with those of the future headquarters of the American Physical Therapy Association and homeowners, will have to walk to Braddock Road (which is what current residents do now). They can also use the north entrance of the Potomac Yards stop, but it will be so far away that Braddock Road will still be closer.
Ethics aside, WMATA’s ridership numbers are down across the board, so they really can’t afford to spend money on lawsuits.
Metro entrance accessibility matters
Personally, one of the main reasons I’m less likely to ride Metro is that I can’t get to an entrance, or because an entrance is too far away. Sometimes, that problem can be fixed simply with something like the Farragut Crossing, which came online in 2011 to allow people to transfer across Farragut Square without paying double.
It’s not too late to get the south Potomac Yard entrance back, but considering the station has already been postponed a number of times, it's looking unlikely. This doesn’t bode well for property owners on the south side of a development that was built around its future proximity to a Metro station.
The design change still has to be approved by the National Park Service, Alexandria's Planning Commission, the Board of Architectural Review and the City Council.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the station is under construction. It's still in the planning stages.