New Metro Station Requires Funding the City Doesnt Have

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Building a Metro station at Potomac Yard has been predicated on a range of elements since the ideas conception and relatively recent reintroduction to the citys development docket. As the possibility inches closer, the entities researching the feasibility of a new station are hampered by a glaring question: Where will the money come from?

The most recent planning process for a Metro station began more than a year ago by order of the City Council to identify principles for developing the area. But the feasibility of a Metro station and its potential effects on the areas urbanization has been the focus as of late for specially focused advisory groups, the Planning Commission, city staff and the public.

The city alone does not have the money to build a new stop on the Yellow and Blue Lines, according to Deputy City Manager Mark Jinks, who provided financial sketches of the project Tuesday at a Planning Commission work session.

The funding challenge stems from the nature of building a rail station; unlike other development projects that can be implemented in numerous phases, a Metro station must be built uninterrupted as a one-time project, albeit over a period of years, meaning the financing for it needs to be available up front.

The issue boils down to covering the front end [of the project], Jinks said. And can we do it in such a way that doesnt place a heavy yoke on the city?

A Metro station would certainly make the city money, if only the city had the money to build one.
A new station could cost anywhere from $140 million to $260 million, a presentation by the Potomac Yard Planning Advisory Group estimated, depending on the stations characteristics (whether it would be above or below ground), size and location.

The estimates formula used a conservative $10 per-square-foot figure for developer contributions, Jinks said. In that scenario, a funding gap of about $24 million would exist. In a second scenario, city staff included a larger developer contribution and came up with a deficit of about $890,000.

Where is that money going to come from? Jinks said, apparently reiterating concerns from the Metrorail Station Feasibility Work Group of which Mayor Bill Euille and Councilman Tim Lovain are members. The schools? Higher taxes?

The funding gap, though, is a relatively short-term one. In the long term, the potential revenue accumulated from a Potomac Yard development with a Metro station would pay for itself around 2020, depending on the scenario, according to the presentation. The city is expected to enjoy a net profit after that.

But in the mean time an enormous decision with policy consequences for the city would exist if the Metro project were to move forward. The city has a long set of limits in place that keep its debt burden relatively low, like a policy that hinders borrowing money for unexpected costs. Such policies would likely have to change to move forward, Jinks said.

Still, the eventual benefits of adding a railway exist. Aside from a projected large and sustainable net profit (namely from property values), it would reduce traffic congestion on Route 1 and is a step toward environmental sustainability.

Though city staff members were surprised at the projected capacity of Route 1, it will approach capacity regardless of redevelopment, according to research by city staff.

We thought it would be worse, frankly, said Sandra Marks, the traffic calming coordinator.
A Metro station would help alleviate the congestion and deterioration, leading the traffic subcommittee to recommend building the station.

Lacking funds are part of a larger list of concerns of the parties planning the Potomac Yard redevelopment, which is still in a preliminary stage. With or without the financing, a potential Metro stations effect on the surrounding area has not yet been vetted.

All of this is at the principal level, said Planning Commission member Eric Wagner. But I think theres a strong feeling that we need to understand the possible effects on the neighborhoods from these various scenarios so we can evaluate whether it makes sense or doesnt make sense.

From a 40,000-foot level, everyone likes these principles. But the words in these principles have different meanings to different people.

There will be a work session with City Council regarding Potomac Yard on Tuesday, June 9, at City Hall.

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