Arlington County staff have been given the ‘go-ahead’ to move forward with planning a second entrance at the Ballston Metro station, according to project manager Bee Buergler, but it could be another five years before it actually comes to fruition. The project is over 15 years in the planning, but until recently it’s been held up because the building that would be above it was being redeveloped and ran into delays.
The Ballston West project would add a brand new mezzanine inside the rail station, as well as elevators and either escalators or stairs on the south side of the street. The design phase is expected to take two more years, and construction could take three, assuming the county fully funds the project. The entrance would be located at 4420 Fairfax Drive at Vermont Street near Glebe Road.
“We’ve been waiting a very, very long time,” Buergler said Monday, July 22 at a presentation of the project with the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association. “When I started with the county in 2004, this was the county’s number one capital project,” she remarked.
Arlington County recently approved a deal with the owners of the building at 4420 Fairfax Drive in March, which allowed it to begin moving ahead with planning and construction, even if the building above won’t yet be redeveloped. The county will receive $6.8 million from the building owner, Washington Capitol Partners, if and when it decides to redevelop the property
The second entrance addition will cost approximately $130 million, according to Arlington County officials. Arlington requested $72 million from NVTA in 2018 but didn’t receive the money. Competing projects in Northern Virginia, such as widening Route 1 in Fairfax County and expanding Arlington’s Metroway, won out. (Anticipated funding is explained in Arlington’s Capital Improvement Plan.)
Existing plans need updates for the project to continue
When developer JGB Smith owned the 4420 Fairfax building, it began designing the project and got to the “35%” design plans, said Buergler. These preliminary design documents are helping the project team determine specific details about how the project would turn out, how to work around obstacles and existing buildings and utilities in the area, and estimated costs.
JGB Smith even did some initial work for the eventual entrance back around 2005 when the nearby Arlington Gateway building was under construction. Then the project stalled. According to Buergler, a below-ground wellway for escalators was built at that time for future use, and it’s been sitting ever since. The addition cost around a million dollars at the time, and was a requirement of the building’s site plan.
Given the nearly 15-year gap between the plan’s creation and now, Arlington has to have the plans updated. Metro has new and updated requirements, plus local, state, and federal codes have also changed. Arlington County staff are working on that now, and expect to issue a proposal in August in order to update the plans.
Buergler said the project is about $40 million higher than estimates for a similar second Crystal City entrance because the county is unsure about utilities and unmarked equipment under Fairfax Drive.
“When the county worked with WMATA to put the new elevators in on the east end of Ballston Metro, the construction contractor…encountered a Verizon duct bank that was under the sidewalk where the elevators were supposed to go,” Buergler said. The project, which happened in the mid-2000s, was held up for a couple of months. Then the county decided it was cheaper to move the elevators out into the parking lane and take street parking rather than to pay the fees associated with relocating utilities on their original locations.
Buergler also noted JGB Smith’s active involvement in the Crystal City Metro second entrance was a reason for the cost difference. “So much of it is on JGB property, and JGB has been active…with us in the concept design plan,” she said. “They’re similar [projects] in layout and scope, but their site conditions and the partnering is different.”
This article has been updated to reflect that the county has not yet received money from Washington Capitol Partners.
Metro Reasons is a regular breaking news, investigative reporting, and analysis column by Stephen Repetski about everything Metro. Please send tips to Metro Reasons.