The future is uncertain for the Potomac Yard Metro station, a long-planned stop on the blue and yellow lines between the Braddock Road station and the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport station. City leaders are now faced with three challenges that could jeopardize construction of the station. One is concerns raised by the National Park Service, which says too much of the station would be visible from the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Another problem is the potential need to acquire property from CSX, which would increase the cost of the station by the tens of millions of dollars. Then there is the amount of debt Alexandria would take on to build the station, which would violate the city's debt ceiling."No one is talking about pulling the plug and not moving forward," said Mayor Bill Euille. "The entire planned development at Potomac Yard will not happen without a Metro station."
Three locations are currently under consideration in addition to a no-build scenario. Alternative A is the southernmost location, estimated to cost $194 million. It would be located adjacent to the Potomac Greens neighborhood. Alternative B is a short distance north, behind the Target department store. Its estimated cost is $249 million. Alternative C was an underground station that has been rejected as logistically impossible. Alternative D is a $459 million above-ground design similar to the ones now under construction in Tysons Corner. And then, there's the no-build option, which some say would be the best way to go."If they build a Metro station and the seven million square feet of development at Potomac Yard, 50 percent of the traffic generated goes out onto Route 1," said Katy Cannady, chief critic of the station. "For whatever reason — they work in the wrong place, they hate the Metro — the other 50 percent will keep on driving."
POTOMAC YARD is a 300-acre brownfield in the northeast corner of the city, just south of National Airport. Since prehistoric times, the area has served as a north-south trade and transportation corridor. From 1906 to 1987, Potomac Yard served as a major point of freight transfer between northern and southern rail networks. Today, the site is divided into two main parcels: Potomac Yard and Potomac Greens. These parcels are adjacent to a 120-foot wide active railroad corridor, which includes a Metro line that began operations in the 1980s. The North Potomac Yard Small Area plan approved by City Council in the summer of 2010 calls for a Metro Square neighborhood built around the selection of Alternative B."This neighborhood is the transit hub of North Potomac Yard, where the Metrorail station, dedicated high-capacity transitway, and local and circulator bus services will converge," the plan explains. "Two important public spaces define the character of the neighborhood, including the square park at the center of the neighborhood, and a possible internal pedestrian connection."City officials have focused most of their attention on Alternative B, largely because a 2010 memorandum of understanding with Delaware-based CPYR. That agreement says the developer would kick in $49 million if Alternative B is selected. That's because the design would allow direct access from land owned by the developer to a new Metro station. But new concerns raised by the National Park Service may have cast a shadow over that agreement."My guess is that we will end up with a hybrid of a couple of the different options we have on the table right now," said Councilman Justin Wilson. "As part of that process, the developer proffer would have to be renegotiated."SOME ARE HOPEFUL that city officials will be able to strike an agreement with the National Park Service that does not force council members to go back to the drawing board. One potential scenario might involve working with CSX to get a cost estimate that would put a dollar amount on how much the city would have to spend to acquire land from the railroad company. That's expected to be in the tens of millions of dollars. Once that figure has been put in writing, city leaders can take it to Park Service leaders to cut a deal."The hope is that if this is as expensive as we think it is, when the National Park Service sees that and realizes that's the only alternative they would say, 'OK, let's work something out,'" said Councilman Tim Lovain. "National Park Service does land swaps."Whatever happens, some kind of solution to the National Park Service concerns must be found before the environmental impact study can move forward. That means the planning for the station has been indefinitely delayed while city leaders negotiate with federal officials over the scenic easement. Another potential sticking point involves National Park Service land adjacent to the station, which carries legal restrictions. Meanwhile, the National Park Service has asked the city to explore the option of moving CSX tracks west so that the new Potomac Yard station would not violate the scenic easement. City officials estimate that would delay the project about four years and add $50 million to $100 million to the cost."First there's the cost of moving the tracks, then there's the cost of acquiring the land, then there's construction inflation every year there's a delay," said Deputy City Manager Mark Jinks. "The first phase is getting CSX to agree to study it, and we should know by February whether they would agree to study it or not."FINANCING THE STATION creates yet another problem for the city. Because Alexandria taxpayers will have to finance the station without federal or state money, City Council members will have to assume some financial risk. Alexandria leaders are expecting Potomac Yard to generate $1 billion worth of revenue in the next three decades, an expansion of the tax base that would help fund construction of a Metro station that could open its doors as early as 2018."Sure there's a risk, and it's a big project so it's a big risk," said Frank Shafroth, director of the Center for State and Local Leadership at George Mason University. "That's why it's important that the city recognizes the risk because that allows the city to control it."