JBG Smith rendering of the second Crystal City Metro entrance and plaza at Crystal Drive and 18th Street. Image from JBG Smith.

A plan submitted by developer JBG Smith to Arlington County could see the company put in charge of building the second Crystal City Metro station entrance, a long-sought-after project that would increase access to the station.

If approved, the new entrance would be built along Crystal Drive near 18th street, providing riders a quicker connection to the proposed new VRE Crystal City station and to offices and residences in the area. A copy of the submitted proposal was made available to Greater Greater Washington for review.

The current Crystal City Metro station isn’t sufficient

“[Second entrance] project justification and planning go back many years,” according to Arlington’s project website. The 2010 Crystal City Sector Plan identified several issues with access to the existing Metro entrance, including a “lack of a direct route for many users to the station entrance.”

The county says building a second Metro entrance at Crystal City has numerous benefits. Having an entrance right off of Crystal Drive makes it easier for more people to access the station without having to walk up 18th Street to the other side. It also would mean adding more fare gates, escalators, and elevators to the station, which would make entering and exiting faster. That could be a big benefit since a significant number of jobs are set to come to the Crystal City area (aka National Landing) because of the new Amazon headquarters.

Alternative A marks the spot where JBG's proposed station would go. Image by Arlington County.

Adding the second entrance is “critical to the future of National Landing and Crystal Drive,” says JBG Smith’s Jay Corbalis, Vice President of Public Affairs. (JBG Smith was a sponsor of the GGWash 2019 birthday party.)

The entrance is part of the company’s longer-term vision of “reorienting” the area along Crystal Drive, the main north-south link through Arlington to the east of Route 1. Adding a second Metro entrance helps solidify rail transit access in the corridor, which aligns with JBG Smith’s goal of making Metro a primary way for residents and workers to get in and out of the National Landing area.

A study by Metro and the county in 2014 came up with three possible locations for the new second entrance on different corners of the Crystal Drive/18th Street intersection. The resulting proposed location is a modified version of one of those possibilities at the northwest corner of the intersection. JBG Smith already owns and is planning to redevelop the property upon which it would be located, which could simplify the planning and design process for the second entrance.

The proposed escalator location into the new Crystal City second entrance (#27) at the corner of Crystal Drive and 18th Street. Image from JBG Smith.

“To us, it’s really all about alignment of interests” with Arlington, said Corbalis. Arlington wants higher transit ridership, JBG Smith wants easier access into Crystal City (where the company is a major real estate owner), and Corbalis sees a “unique opportunity” for the two to “make an agreement that aligns our interests.”

The second entrance project was endorsed by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) in 2018, and $5 million was approved for preliminary engineering for the project. Virginia, as part of the Amazon HQ2 deal, committed $195 million towards five projects in Arlington and Alexandria, including the station’s second entrance.

JBG Smith interest in National Landing could push the project forward

The JBG Smith proposal notes the company hopes to use a “design-build” approach to the project. Instead of potentially several contracts covering engineering and preliminary designs and then putting the project out for bid, Arlington would select JBG Smith (or potentially another applicant, if the county accepts the proposal and wants to move forward) to lead it from start to finish.

JBG Smith says benefits of this approach include “cost efficiencies” due to fewer transitions between project team members. Plus, the county would know the project cost earlier, and there would be a shorter timeframe for completion.

Corbalis says it would make sense for JBG Smith to be involved with the project from the beginning, both since the company owns the land on which the second entrance would be built and because the company is planning a two-story retail building on the corner. “If we’re going to be involved anyway…[it would] help the project move more efficiently,” he said.

The first of two phases of the project would be used to create the “30% plans” needed to develop a cost estimate of the full project construction. Once the designs and cost are finalized and agreed upon with Arlington, construction of the second entrance would begin under the project’s second phase.

Arlington and Metro estimate the cost of adding the second entrance will be just over $90 million, which includes preliminary engineering and construction. Nearly $13 million to fund the project has already been allocated, including the $5 million NVTA grant, $4.5 million from the local Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) district, and other Virginia funding. The rest, or at least a majority of it, is expected to come from funds Virginia has set aside.

JBG Smith does not propose to help pay for the project, but would just act as the project manager to ensure it gets completed. Arlington would be the hook to pay for the project up to whatever cost is agreed to with the JBG Smith team but no more, according to the proposal. The parties would agree to a fixed price for the project, and JBG Smith would be liable for any overages if they were to occur. If the project comes in under budget, JBG Smith says its project team and the county would share the savings.

Average weekday ridership at the Crystal City metro station. Data from WMATA.

The project team JBG plans to work with includes well-known names that have done significant work for Metro in the past. AECOM is expected to serve as ‘Lead Designer’ for the project, with KGP also onboard to provide ‘station architecture services.’ Clark Construction is listed as the Prime Contractor for the project.

What’s up next for the project?

Under the Virginia Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002 (PPEA), Arlington will accept competing proposals from others until September 3. The county “intends to evaluate” the proposal submitted by JBG Smith, and it has the option to “negotiate an interim or comprehensive agreement with the proposer based on the proposal…”

A construction timeline of the project is not yet known, though JBG Smith’s Corbalis believes it would be “certainly possible to achieve” Arlington’s current goal of 2025. The project would likely require a number of weekend Metrorail shutdowns at the station while crews make way for the second entrance above the tracks.

Update: Greater Greater Washington has obtained the JBG Smith Crystal City Second Entrance unsolicited proposal from Arlington County in response to a FOIA request. Volume II, which JBG considers ‘confidential,’ was not included.

Metro Reasons is a regular breaking news, investigative reporting, and analysis column by Stephen Repetski about everything Metro. Please send tips to Metro Reasons.

Stephen Repetski is a Virginia native and has lived in the Fairfax area for over 20 years. He has a BS in Applied Networking and Systems Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology and works in Information Technology. Learning about, discussing, and analyzing transit (especially planes and trains) is a hobby he enjoys.