Construction of the King Street Metro North Platform Extension is pretty much a done deal. The contract was awarded approximately one and a half months ago.
That's the word from Richard Baier, director, Alexandria Transportation and Environmental Services (T&ES) Administration. "This pedestrian extension platform, as well as the north entrance, which was completed last year, were the subject of much public discussion beginning in 1997 and continuing through 2001, after the King Street Metro Area report was completed," Baier said.
The reason for his pronouncement is a memorandum dated March 8, from a group of citizens and a separate letter from city resident Larry Grossman, to Mayor William Euille and City Council requesting the project be, not only stopped, but junked. Their reason was a perceived misuse of city funds totaling $13.4 million for construction costs.
The new platform, which will include fare card readers, stairs, an elevator, and an information kiosk, will improve pedestrian and vehicular safety by allowing pedestrians approaching the station from the north to enter without having to cross heavily trafficked King Street, according to the city budget explanation. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) will manage the construction.
"We primarily oppose this project due to the high cost of both construction and operation for the number of riders to be served," the memo, sent by Marlin G. Lord, AIA, Lois Walker, Boyd Walker, Nina Tisara, Sherry Brown, David Martin and Larry Grossman, stated.
"The cost is too high for the value received," they insisted. "Under WMATA's current policy, the city must now pay the $13 million construction cost." They also charged, "There has been no cost-benefit analysis of this project" and "This project does nothing to improve the pedestrian access under CSX and Metro tracks at Commonwealth Avenue ..."
IN HIS SEPARATE letter, Grossman further charged, "The costs of this project overwhelmingly outweigh the benefits. The project is fiscally irresponsible and access to the station from the north will only be marginally improved after wasting multiple millions of capital dollars..."
He added, "Each section of Metro line is governed by a Special Use Permit. To make amendments to the physical layout of the stations, WMATA should be applying for an amendment to the SUP which requires public hearings and final approval by City Council."
Not so on all counts, according to Baier.
First, the claim that this project is going to cost the city $13.4 million is erroneous, Baier said. It is actually going to cost the city $332,938 when all the fiscal elements are factored in "for an improvement in excess of $10 million" as Baier phrased it.
Page 143 of the recently released city budget spells out the details:
"State bonds in the amount of $9.0 million have been transferred to WMATA by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission [NVTC] on the City's behalf to fund a portion of this project. The City has transferred and additional $3.0 million in state urban funds ($2,940,000 from the state matched by $60,000 from the City) for the project. The urban funds were originally programmed for the King Street Underpass project and then transferred upon its cancellation. The remaining funds were provided by a Federal Transportation Administration earmark of $1,091,750 which required a City match of $272,938. This City match was transferred to WMATA in FY 2004."
The $60,000 difference between the $272,938 and $332,938 is the VDOT match. "The remaining monies for construction are coming from bonds of $9 million, transferred to WMATA by NVTC on the city's behalf," according to Baier.
"With regard to the special use permit, I have been informed by Barbara Ross [deputy director, Alexandria Department of Planning and Zoning] that under section 4-1302(H) of the zoning ordinance, WMATA stations and their associated facilities and operations are permitted, not special, uses. Therefore, an SUP is no longer required," Baier said.
AS FOR THE group's claim, "The cost is too high for the value received" coupled with Grossman's stated, "the costs of this project overwhelmingly outweigh the benefits," there was an objection from Judy Miller, Rosemont resident and past president of the Rosemont Citizens Association.
"It gives me great pain to discover that at the tenth hour there arises controversy regarding extension of the King Street Platform," she wrote to Euille and Council. "These plans have been crafted, laid down, explained, and been greeted with enthusiasm more than once at the Rosemont Citizens Association, and at several Board meetings of that association."
She further notes, "These occurrences happened during the planning stages of the past two to three years, and we understood that the platform was to be a reality. The dissidents who are appearing now are like saboteurs who arise in the night, and give little chance for response ..."
Miller makes particular note, "It is interesting ... the dissident parties are not those who would make use of the extension since they do not live in the neighborhood area, i.e., it would benefit them not at all."
She further implored, "I enjoin you to consider the origin of the malcontents who display little value for the citizenry who would be served, their lack of notification to those same citizenry, and to members of the King Street Task Force which met, discussed, and planned what would best work in the area.
"To have these plans sabotaged at such a late date is a travesty to the planning that has been accomplished, the many meetings we have attended. Should you not consider building this platform at this time, you do so with wanton disregard for the neighboring civic associations that have been part of the planning process these many years."
Baier noted, the report supporting the platform "was one of the initial "lead ins" to the King Street work group formation." It was originally headed by then Councilman David Speck and is now chaired by Councilman Ludwig Gaines.
"This group has community members on it from Rosemont, Taylor Run, Del Ray and Upper King Street associations as well as KISMET, AEDP, various business associations and staff from planning, T&ES and police," Baier clarified.
"In 2001, this project was presented to the group and to the surrounding upper King Street associations and there was considerable discussion... In addition, there have been a number of public meetings and hearings on this issue by WMATA ... in fact the project was altered as a result of those hearing as to the canopy element ... so as not to block the Masonic Temple view from the street," Baier emphasized.
Baier also pointed out, "We asked WMATA to bundle the platform extension with the north portal project to secure a better bid." Construction on the North Portal is scheduled to commence in the next two weeks. The platform is presently scheduled for an early summer commencement, Baier verified.