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Potomac Yard Metro: Getting Back on Track?

City hopes to determine station location by the end of 2014.

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

Alexandria officials said this week they hope to determine the location of a Potomac Yard Metro station by the end of 2014.

Members of the city work group charged with analyzing the plan met Monday for the first time in more than six months to discuss the latest developments in efforts to bring an infill station to the yard, including potentially moving CSX tracks to accommodate the project.

The city is looking into pursuing $58 million in regional project funding from the Northern Virginia Transit Authority to assist the project. If secured, it will diversify the project’s funding scheme and reduce the annual debt service.

Over the second half of 2013, the project stalled on issues related to constructing the city’s preferred build option. Those issues included encroachment onto National Park Service land along the George Washington Memorial Parkway and a scenic easement in the north end of Potomac Greens.

“We’ve already seen the schedule slip about 12 months already,” said former mayor Kerry Donley, an at-large member of the group. “One of the aspects here is not to let it slip anymore. It’s not in anyone’s interest to let this unravel.”

The city delayed the 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. A no-build option is also part of the study, though Mayor Bill Euille has consistently said building a station is a priority.

“We need to have a Metro station otherwise we will not achieve all our goals and everything we’re desiring [at Potomac Yard],” Euille said.

Planners are in the process of developing new construction schedules and updated cost projects. Currently the high-end estimates for the three options range between $195 million and $462 million. The aerial station carries the highest price tag and has never been considered a realistic option. 

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.

The biggest question at the moment is the feasibility of changing the alignment of the CSX tracks to build an alternative to Alternative B.

Deputy City Manager Mark Jinks estimated that would add $50 to $100 million to the $250 million price tag for the preferred station. Along with the track, fiber-optic cables and a jet fuel line would have to be moved.

“If we do financial projections and it’s clearly a no-go, then we don’t have to go forward,” Jinks said.

The CSX option would also call for razing the Regal Cinema at Potomac Yard. The theater doesn’t have a buyout clause in its lease, which runs through the end of 2018. If a station involving the realignment of the CSX tracks is chosen, it likely wouldn’t be completed until 2022 at the earliest.

Donley said there is also the cost of lost opportunities in landing federal office tenants in a redeveloped north end of Potomac Yard.

“The competition for [General Services Administration] leases is all going to change when the Silver Line becomes operational,” he said. “Those leases then go somewhere else, and we’re left with whatever is left over and we lose our advantages, including proximity to the Pentagon and D.C.”

The CSX option would also reduce the amount of new development slotted to replace the current shopping center.

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.

Planners and city officials have said the re-planning is best to be discussed after the location of a Metro station is determined.

The redevelopment of the Potomac Yard Shopping Center also could be a slow endeavor. It was revealed Monday that some leases on the current shopping center have been extended to 2028. Successful stores aren’t likely to accept buyouts, but officials said a decision and schedule for a Metro station could likely expedite the termination of leases. 

“Certainty is the key here,” Donley said. “The sooner we make a decision on a station, the better. I think it’s real important we stay on task.” 

Fitz157 January 09, 2014 at 10:07 AM
I don't understand why there is so much consideration being given to the CSX option if it would delay the opening of the Potomac Yard station until 2022. It seems that the opportunity cost would be huge.
billy January 09, 2014 at 10:46 AM
Agreed, Fitz. The timeline for the CSX option seems like a deal breaker, not to mention the issues with reduced capacity for development. Was there any discussion re: Alternative A? Given the roadblocks facing Alternative B and the CSX option, you have to at least consider it, right?
LG January 09, 2014 at 11:06 AM
I agree - I get that the shopping center agreed to kick in $50 million for Alternative B, but I believe I read somewhere that the construction cost estimate for Alternative A is $50 million cheaper, so it ends up being a wash. I'm wondering if I'm missing something with respect to why Alternative B is so heavily favored, given the cost differentials and construction difficulties.
Elena Caudle Hutchison January 09, 2014 at 11:19 AM
I believe A would have all the same issues with the national parks service as B would have. But B is closer to the proposed density, so that's why it is preferred.
Jeff Yutzler January 09, 2014 at 01:28 PM
@ECH Are you sure about that? I was not led to believe that Alternative A had any park issues. However, Alternative A would require more construction along live tracks and therefore would be more disruptive to existing riders.
B DelRay January 09, 2014 at 02:08 PM
I am with the earlier commenters. I have never understood why Alt A was so quickly dismissed when it was the original site that was set aside. I don't believe there are NPS issues with this site and it is the least expensive. I get that Alt B is in a slightly denser area (more appealign to developers), but the parkland issues are troublesome and Alt A would still be walkable. The aerial option has always been a non-starter given its much higher cost so I don't know why it is still on the table. It doesn't seem like the new CSX option is viable either - I'm sure the cost will be much higher and waiting until 2022 to be completed? That is completely ridiculous - the buildings are being built now!
Katy Cannady January 10, 2014 at 10:16 AM
Alternative A would not involve moving the tracks. That is a large part of why it is cheaper. Option A does not present major problems, perhaps no problems at all, to the Park Service. It also could start construction sooner and builders would have a clearer picture of what the total cost might be. I have been attending the meetings of the work group. Despite all the problems with B, none of them appear interested in A as a fall back location.
Fitz157 January 10, 2014 at 10:38 AM
I'm a little surprised at the lack of interest in Alternative A given that the CSX Option for Alternative B would push this project 5 years down the line. If the city really wants Alternative B then I hope they're able to find a way to do so without the track realignment.
Dave January 10, 2014 at 10:49 AM
Stop complaining. This is the speed of government. It works.
Fitz157 January 10, 2014 at 10:55 AM
Hi Dave. I don't know who you comment is directed at but as far as I can tell no one is really complaining. Not every criticism is a complaint. Government does work slow. Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes not. Asking that it work a little more quickly and more efficiently is reasonable. Right now there are four developments under construction within 1/4 mile of the proposed stop. Each of these started with the assumption that the metro station would start construction sometime at the end of this year or the beginning of next year.
Camrn January 10, 2014 at 03:36 PM
The density issue is minor when considering the transportation options that can, and will be expanded to, carry people out into the Yards community (buses, bikes, trolleys, walking). Perhaps there are other, substantial, financial agreements on hold that were negotiated around the Alt B option. Re-negotiating these would take several months, but it is doable with the right people in charge. It may also result in a better overall deal for everyone. Staying "on task" is a good strategic approach in a stable environment where a predictable timetable with no major roadblocks or changes exist. That's not the case here. Inflexibility may result in high cost and delayed implementation, or worse, a disjointed project that will take years to payout.

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