Empty store fronts and a quiet grand hall currently define D.C.’s Union Station — now a shell of the once bustling and thriving transportation hub for the nation’s capital.
And despite the relative inactivity, getting out of the century-old rail station still takes “half an hour to a year,” quipped D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s meeting last Thursday.
At a gathering of government leaders from across the greater D.C. area, all agreed Union Station needs redevelopment.
“We are more than just a train station,” said Doug Carr, CEO and president of the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, at the meeting. “We are the heart of transportation in the DMV area. Terrific design and engineering can lead to excitement and also [make] train travel and commuting cool and enjoyable again.”
At the gathering, Carr presented new renderings of what Union Station could look like after redevelopment. Proposed additions included a new train hall, bus facility, H Street concourse and more entrances.
“The station expansion project is designed to accommodate railroad growth,” Carr said.
By increasing train capacity, ridership on Amtrak is projected to increase by 95%, VRE by 250% and MARC by 150%, according to the USRC. A proposed bus facility is projected to increase bus ridership by 50%.
Carr said the addition of more exits and entrances to the station will also reduce wait times for ride-share and taxi pickups.
“This is going to make it so much easier for passengers to get into and out of the station,” Mendelson said. “Right now, you get off the train and it takes … half an hour to a year to get out of the station. With the new station, if I remember correctly, it could take around five minutes.”
Despite the proposed changes, Carr assured lawmakers that Union Station’s historic main hall will not be significantly altered.
“We look at it as improving the future while preserving the past,” Carr said.
The massive project is set to take “well over a decade” to complete and “many billions of dollars,” according to the USRC.
Currently, only a tenth of the project has been designed.
Despite the long and winding road ahead, Charles Allen, Chair of the DC Committee on Transportation and the Environment, stressed the importance of this project.
“This is a century level type of investment,” Allen said.
Carr said not only is this redevelopment essential, it’s also doable. He pointed to his work on the recent and successful expansion of New York City’s Pennsylvania Station. With the creation of the Moynihan Train Hall, Penn. Station expanded service capacity while maintaining the historic nature of the station.
“This has been done before and can be done again,” Carr said. “The challenge now is to make this concept into a reality.”