Opinion

Letter to the editor: THE “NO-BUILD” OPTION FOR THE POTOMAC YARD METRO | Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet

Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet

Dear Editor:

Recently, there have been a number of briefings regarding the proposed Metro Station in Potomac Yard. At every one of these briefings, City Staff described the four alternatives that were under consideration (now reduced to two). Alternative A, which will cost about $209 million, is adjacent to Potomac Greens, and Alternative B, which is calculated to be $268 million, is very close to the Potomac Yards mall, but is also on a scenic easement owned by the National Park service. Neither location will be outfitted with a Kiss-and-Ride lot, so potential riders must walk to these locations. This may be difficult for some, especially for the handicapped.

The City has stated repeatedly that the Potomac Yard Metro project will result in “no costs” to the City’s General Fund, and that funding will come from developer contributions, grants from regional, state and federal sources, special tax district revenues, and new tax revenues generated from the overall development. However, this has not been the case. Recently, Virginia has agreed to loan (not grant) Alexandria $50 million, and developers will only contribute to the Metro if Alternative B is selected, which is beyond the pale. Unfortunately, the rest of these offsets are all too true – residents and/or commercial interests located in the two special tax zones within Potomac Yard will pay 10 to 20 percent more on their property taxes. Has this been conveyed to them as they rent and/or buy housing in these districts?

The City of Alexandria cannot continue to “borrow, build, and hope,” as so aptly described by Bob Wood.   This posture has put us a half billion dollars in debt (and more to follow), with a $66 million dollar debt service.   Instead of the erstwhile zero sum game being touted by the City for these Metro alternatives, it would be far more helpful to understand the exact funding requirements for each year (both alternatives A and B) to include a detailed breakout of funding sources that will be used to satisfy each requirement. As an example, next fiscal year, Alexandria’s contribution to WMATA is going to cost an additional $3 million out of the General Fund, resulting in a total payment of $23 million. In future years, the proposed Metro stop will require additional subsidies for Metro, so this must also be factored in, as will the loan from Virginia. Rather than resorting to smoke and mirrors, total transparency is necessary when discussing funding for this Metro stop, and other such developments.

It is estimated that a total of 13,000 new residents will move into the 7,100 newly built units in Potomac Yard, and they will be commuting to work somewhere.   Additionally, 26,000 new jobs will be situated within the Potomac Yard area. Essentially, this adds up to an additional 40,000 individuals entering and exiting the yard on a daily basis, less the number of lucky new residents that snag a job within walking distance. If only half of the projected population uses Metro (which has its own issues), then the other half would drive, or take the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).   In this case, Route 1 will encounter backups all the way to the District of Columbia. To counter this, traffic will seek an alternate route using Commonwealth Avenue, which is exactly what the original traffic plan projected. All of this traffic will occur whether or not there is a Metro stop in Potomac Yard.

Since the BRT is currently devoid of passengers, there is only hope that its ridership will increase in the not too distant future. If the Metro stop at Potomac Yards is not built, it is one way to fulfill the promise of the BRT buses. Moreover, the BRT is justification enough to endorse a “No Build” option for a Potomac Yards Metro stop.   During the City’s presentation to the Federation of Civic Associations last week, a “No Build” option was never mentioned. In previous discussions on this subject, the “No Build” option has always been downplayed or never addressed. However, it was suggested as an option at the Federation meeting by a citizen, for the record.

The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was released on 27 March 2015 to the public. The National Park Service, WMATA, the Federal Transit Administration, and the City of Alexandria are all involved in the EIS process. Regrettably, sources close to this action say that the Park Service has caved into the demands of the developer. This means that (despite the fact that the City owns the Alternative B land) the National Park Service has a “Greens Scenic Area Easement” on that same land, which they could cede to the City for construction of the Metro stop.

In addition, no commercial vehicles are presently allowed on the Parkway without a special exception granted by the Superintendent of the National Park Service, so will Alexandria seek an exemption to allow trucks and construction equipment to operate on that already congested Parkway? If this dispensation is given by the National Park Service, what additional construction impact will occur to the parklands, especially to the demolishment of numerous 20 to 70 year old majestic trees? Unfortunately, alternative haul routes would adversely impact the residents of Potomac Greens and other surrounding neighborhoods. For all of these reasons, a Potomac Yards Metro stop is a bad deal for all except the developer, and should not be pursued. The “No Build” option is the wisest approach, since the BRT negates the need for a stop at this location.

Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet 

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