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City Examining Moving CSX Tracks to Accommodate Potomac Yard Metro Station

Moving railroad tracks would add millions to the project price tag and years to its timetable.

A Metro train running through Potomac Yard (Photo credit: Drew Hansen)
A Metro train running through Potomac Yard (Photo credit: Drew Hansen)

What city officials are calling the most complicated project facing Alexandria appears to be getting even more problematic.

Waylaid by issues related to constructing the preferred option for a Potomac Yard Metro station, including encroachment onto National Park Service land along the George Washington Memorial Parkway and a scenic easement in the north end of Potomac Greens, Alexandria officials are now examining moving the existing CSX tracks through the area to accommodate a station.

The city has delayed its environmental impact study of three station alternatives—two at-grade stations east of the CSX tracks and a third aerial station to the west of the tracks—as it sorts through some of the issues facing the project.

Cost estimates for the three alternatives currently range between $195 million to $462 million. The second at-grade station option, dubbed Alternative B, is considered the preferred option from the city and developers because it puts the density of the development closest to the station.

The selection of Alternative B also carries a $49 million contribution to the city from the developer of the Potomac Yard Shopping Center, which is slotted for a massive redevelopment after a Metro station is constructed.

Planners briefed City Council on the possibility of moving the CSX tracks to accommodate an alternative to Alternative B this week, an effort that would add tens of millions to the project price tag and years to its timetable.

The plan calls for realigning the CSX tracks behind the Regal Cinemas at Potomac Yard to move Alternative B north and away from any encroachment issues. That’s something the city would have to pay for, but it’s something CSX would consider despite it occurring to one of the busiest stretches of track on the East Coast.   

“What it does, moving the CSX tracks, it straightens the tracks, which they like,” said Rich Baier, Alexandria’s director of Transportation and Environmental Services. “It also solves drainage issues.”

The realignment of the track would also call for moving fiber optic lines, the removal of the movie theater (which has a lease on the property into 2018) and some re-planning of the shopping center overhaul.

“It’s not a silver bullet,” Deputy City Manager Mark Jinks said of moving the CSX tracks.

Jinks said the developer of the shopping center has itself requested some re-planning.

Council approved the initial redevelopment plan in 2010, but the developer would like to do some reconfiguring to meet a change in the market and in preferred building design.

“We need to have a better idea of where Metro is going to be before we move forward with that,” Jinks said.

Despite the complications, Mayor Bill Euille said the construction of a Potomac Yard Metro station remains ever important.

“The maximum tax benefit does not accrue if we don’t have a station,” he said.

The city’s Potomac Yard Metrorail Implementation Work Group will meet in early January to discuss the project.

Margo Heegeman December 13, 2013 at 01:46 PM
Excellent summary!!
Boyd Walker December 13, 2013 at 01:49 PM
I wish the City would consider a Streetcar along the transitway now being constructed along Route 1 as an alternative. Currently it will be a BRT bumping into a streetcar in Arlington, but upgrading it to a Streetcar that would let riders reach Braddock Rd Metro an the Pentagon metro would serve more riders, alleviate more traffic and better connect us to other jurisdictions, hopefully reducing cut through traffic. The DC streetcar makes its debut today, so why not consider it.
Jeff Yutzler December 13, 2013 at 03:17 PM
@BW Alternative to what? The Metro station? The no-build option remains on the table and the transitway is explicitly identified as possible improvement area to that option. http://potomacyardmetro.com/alternatives.html
Edmund Lewis December 13, 2013 at 04:54 PM
Where does Alexandria expect to get this money? The city needs to face the reality that the winding down of two wars, federal budget cuts, and a declining commercial market are cutting huge chunks out of Alexandria's tax base. The city needs to reign in their wreckless spending.
Linda Couture December 13, 2013 at 08:43 PM
And, has anyone addressed the capacity of the Metro? Already the Silver Line has taken Blue Line trips, causing huge delays and folks resorting to driving instead. This question needs to be answered before the city takes on more debt.
WestEnder December 14, 2013 at 05:46 PM
Remember what Charles E Smith's moving of the tracks did to complete his vision of Crystal City in the mid 80s, it was a roaring success. A well placed Metro station + well designed development = success. (Prior to the development of Crystal Drive, Crystal City, while an economic engineer for Arlington County, was an urban wasteland as soon as the commuters went home. Now the area has public art, public spaces, and it's a walkable space w/ excellent restaurants.) The developers need to step up to the plate because they are the true beneficiaries. That land w/ a Metro station is . . . priceless.
Boyd Walker December 14, 2013 at 05:56 PM
Jeff Yutzler, I know that the no build alternative includes improvements to the The Crystal City/Potomac Yard Transitway. The Transitway is already being built, but what would switching to a Streetcar Cost? Arlington is moving forward, and I believe Alexadria could afford to link to their system, if we give up a Metro Station: http://www.connectionnewspapers.com/news/2012/jun/21/neighborly-agreement/
Jeff Yutzler December 14, 2013 at 06:07 PM
@EL The city thinks it needs long term growth and the best way for that to happen is for Potomac Yard to be as big and dense as possible to provide the maximum in tax revenues. Existing research suggests that other alternatives (including the streetcar) would not lead to as much growth. If they are right then it is worth the gamble. @LC Metro has proposed a loop line in its long term plan. http://planitmetro.com/rtsp This would alleviate the capacity issues but it is a long way off.
Jeff Yutzler December 15, 2013 at 09:30 AM
@BW The transit system (whatever it may be) pretty much has to terminate at a Metro station, right? There are no improvements south of Monroe Ave. Bridge to support a streetcar. With the cost involved I can't imagine the city building both that and Metro. However, if the Metro station plans get scrapped (which have been and remain a distinct possibility), expect a completely new Streetcar plan. Don't hold your breath though because this will require a new EIS and so forth - we'd be turning a 10 year clock back to 0.
matt tallmerq December 16, 2013 at 08:43 AM
I agree with most of the comments above. The debt service alone will push the city close to a negative balance. Remember: every dollar spent on debt service is a dollar the city cannot spend on services. In addition, no one has addressed what this construction will do to commuting times on the Blue and Yellow lines. Trains have to crawl through the construction site, and I suspect, both lines will effectively be shutdown on weekends for years (if not decades) to come.
Drew Hansen (Editor) December 16, 2013 at 02:48 PM
Matt, you're correct that the project will include a lot of weekend work. Since it's an infill station, it will also include a lot of nighttime work and single-tracking during off-peak hours of operation.

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