Could Wizards, Caps move to Va. provide boost for Metro?

Development of a new arena for the Washington Wizards and Capitals in Alexandria, Virginia, could transform the area around the Potomac Yard Metro station and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., believes it could provide a broader financial boost for the transit agency.

Metro warned this week it’s facing a $750 million deficit due to a wide range of issues, including a drop in ridership after the pandemic.

Without additional funding from Virginia, Maryland and D.C., Metro said it will be forced to reduce service hours and raise fares.

Kaine said this week he hopes the new development bringing over the Wizards and Capitals will cause Virginia lawmakers to take a fresh look at the Metro funding issue.

“I know that the presence of the new Potomac Yard Metro site is a real key feature to this proposal,” he said. “And obviously, we’re having a discussion right now about Metro funding and Metro might have a funding deficit that can only be addressed by cooperation between Maryland, D.C. and Virginia.”

Metro has said it needs more than $660 million from the two states and D.C. to avoid widespread cutbacks.

Kaine said the Potomac Yard development could put Metro’s funding requests in a new light.

“Possibly, this announcement might provide more incentive to the General Assembly and governor in Virginia to do something significant on Metro funding,” Kaine said.

But Virginia’s potential gain is the District’s loss. Without sports fans attending dozens of games at Capital One Arena, Metro ridership would likely drop substantially at the Gallery Place-Chinatown station.

The station is currently one of the busiest in D.C.

By contrast, the Potomac Yard station in Virginia is one of the 10 stations with the least amount of ridership in the Metro system. It’s the newest station and opened in May.

Metro General Manager Randy Clarke has said the station would need significant improvements to handle the crowds of sporting events.

In a briefing with reporters Thursday, Clarke said Metro had “nothing to do with” the plans to move the teams to Alexandria.

“I wasn’t involved in the process, I wasn’t involved in any discussions related to the process,” he said.

Clarke said the station is served by two lines, the Blue and Yellow lines.

“Clearly, it would need some type of modification,” he added, explaining the Potomac Yard station only has one escalator and one set of stairs on each platform.

“If it’s a $2 billion investment, I would like to think that there would be some type of interaction with us to do that,” Clarke said.

In a virtual question and answer session with the Del Ray Citizens Association, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson said Metro is “certainly is aware of this discussion and have been consulted about this early on.”

In an email to WTOP, Wilson wrote, “Alexandria and WMATA are in sync, and our comments are not inconsistent … I’m not going to be able to give you a tick/tock on the communications between the two entities and how estimates were informed, etc. But we’re in sync, and we will collaborate on the investments necessary as we plan further. The nature of a confidential economic development process is that we are unable to broadly communicate with all partners until a public announcement. With that behind us, we have a lot of work to do!”

While speaking to the DRCA, Wilson echoed some of what Clarke had to say about the capabilities of the Potomac Yard Metro station.

“There is no way that the current station could accommodate this use as is,” he said. “A significant chunk of what has initially been envisioned as transportation infrastructure investments would require improvements to the station.”

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., like Sen. Kaine, is a strong supporter of the new development and has said it will need to include major road and infrastructure work.

Overall, Kaine said the development will be largely a state and local project.

“It does look like the governor had done significant work with both Alexandria officials and state legislators on it,” he said. “So, it’s local officials that need to say grace over the land use and it’s state officials that need to say grace over the financing.”

The proposed development is subject to approval by the Virginia General Assembly, with plans to break ground in 2025 and open in 2028.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller has worked at WTOP since 1996, as a producer, editor, reporter and Senior News Director. After working "behind the scenes," coordinating coverage and reporter coverage for years, Mitchell moved back to his first love -- reporting. He is now WTOP's Capitol Hill reporter.

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