George Washington University has begun early conversations with DC officials for another large redevelopment project on its campus. As the school, the DC government, and the public start discussing the project, all should think about how to make a much-needed second Foggy Bottom Metro entrance a reality.
The project will rebuild most of Square 55, between H and I from 22nd to 23rd. This is one block south of Square 54, home to a massive redevelopment project currently under construction. 55 contains three existing residence halls, which will remain, but most of the square contains enormous parking garages and a small unremarkable building on the 23rd Street side.
GW wants to build a new 61,000 square foot science and engineering complex on the site. It would remove 5 of the 7 existing curb cuts and widen the remaining 2 to create a parking entrance on H and a loading entrance on I.
When thinking about GW’s growth, a huge issue is the Foggy Bottom Metro, one of the most common sources of rider complaints from overcrowding at the entrance. Foggy Bottom is DC’s highest ridership station with only a single mezzanine; Rosslyn and Pentagon are the only two with more traffic and one mezzanine. Rosslyn is getting a second entrance, and Pentagon has two sets of escalators in an uncommon configuration.
WMATA studied possible locations for a second entrance. The most logical site is the corner of 22nd and I, at the eastern end of the current station and closer to most of the campus and downtown.
WMATA suggested the southeast corner of 22nd and I, which is mostly empty save for a small brick townhouse which the current GW Master Plan calls to remove. According to officials from the Office of Planning, GW has agreed to reserve space for this entrance when they eventually redevelop that square, Square 77, which is just to the east of Square 55.
I couldn’t get clear information about whether the agreement includes actually building the mezzanine, which on WMATA’s plans will go under 22nd Street and overlap pieces of both Square 77 and Square 55, or building the escalator entrance versus simply leaving empty space for it and demanding DC or WMATA pay part of the construction cost for the building.
Arlington has successfully asked developers to pay the full cost of new entrances as part of projects, though they can authorize far, far taller buildings than DC can. DC is very cash-strapped today, and has a number of other high priority capital projects including streetcars and the Union Station north entrance expansion.
GW is already going to dig down many levels for parking in the Square 55 project. Perhaps they can construct all or part of the necessary mezzanine now, while there’s a big hole in the ground. A new entrance would benefit GW employees most of all.
This PUD will implement part of the existing campus plan, which unfortunately does not include a new entrance in its transportation section. However, according to Foggy Bottom Association director Greg Snyder, GW has been using PUDs to push for some extra density beyond that called for in the campus plan in some areas. If they want extra flexibility, OP and the Zoning Commission should ask them to give their employees extra flexibility as well and reduce traffic in the neighborhood by contributing to an extra entrance.
A new entrance won’t happen without leadership from the DC government. OP and DDOT should keep this priority in mind as they discuss ongoing campus redevelopment with GW, and figure out how to best get the entrance built with minimal public money. Otherwise, development may proceed without an entrance, foreclosing the opportunity for a long time.