By Chris Teale (File photo)
Those walking past the King Street Metro station in recent weeks might have noticed signs indicating that the bus bays, 34 metered parking spaces and taxi pick-up point were closed until further notice. The signs were for maintenance following a water main break, which has since been completed by contractors from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
But a bigger project is brewing for Old Town’s Metro stop, one that has been in planning for years and is set to kick into high gear later this year. In conjunction with WMATA, the city will spend $11.7 million to reconfigure the station and increase capacity for buses and other forms of transit while eliminating 30 metered parking spaces.
The project was approved by city council in 2012, and will be funded in large part by federal and state grants. The federal government will contribute nearly $6 million, state grants will total approximately $2.3 million and $3.7 million will come from the city’s Transportation Improvement Program. Under discussion since 2006, the project entered the design phase in the spring of 2010.
“The project was initially conceived really for a couple of reasons: safety and efficiency at the station first and foremost,” said Sandra Marks, the city’s deputy director of transportation. “Right now, there are some conflicts between transit users and pedestrians and bikes, and really the goal was to make it more efficient and safe and separate out some of those conflicts that are there today.
“In addition, over the next number of years, we anticipate that we’ll need some additional capacity so the project would really provide some additional bus bays and better circulation to be more efficient for transit users of the station.
Going hand in hand with the need for improvements to the layout of transit options at the station is the desire for pedestrian safety, officials said. Currently, pedestrians who leave the Metro station and walk towards Old Town have to traverse a number of crosswalks and pay attention to numerous buses and cars as they go through. It can create difficulties, especially during rush hour as hotel shuttles and apartment shuttles join the fray.
“I think the big thing for me is pedestrian safety,” said City Councilor Tim Lovain, who is also a member of the city’s transportation commission. “Obviously there’s the King Street Trolley, but for a lot of people, they want to just walk from there to Upper King Street, to the hotels and businesses around there. There’s a lot of stuff being built right now, and we just want to make it a safer experience for them and a more convenient one.”
With the amount of new residential and commercial development springing up all around the city, mass transit to and from the King Street station is seen as vital to ensuring that roads do not become too congested and people can move as quickly as possible across Alexandria. The
King Street Trolley has seen tremendous ridership since it was first introduced in 2008, something Marks sees as a positive but needs to be taken into account when planning capacity upgrades.
“That’s the ultimate goal, to improve the transit service,” she said. “One of the other things that we’re seeing at the station in the past couple of years is the trolley service, which is new, has added vehicles that are accessing the station and has been very popular, very high ridership, so we would anticipate that as funding becomes available we would love to see that service expanded as well.
“Then, just planning for future transit service and with the new development that’s occurred throughout the city, additional transit is going to be critical to serve that development. We’ve already seen additional bus service with the BRAC building at Mark Center, so there’s been some additional transit service. The other user of the station: we have a number of hotel shuttles and things like that, and [it’s] really just making sure that we have adequate space to serve all of those needs.”
Patricia Washington, president and CEO of Visit Alexandria, believes that the renovation will be of enormous benefit both to visitors and residents, especially as it should allow easier access — with or without cars — to the shops and restaurants both in Old Town and in the surrounding neighborhoods.
“The King Street-Old Town Metrorail Station is a major gateway for visitors and for many it is the first impression of our city,” she said. “The new plan will help orient visitors to our shopping, dining and historic sites on King Street and allow for a safer transition to the King
Street Trolley, pedestrian pathways, [Capital] Bikeshare, taxis and more.”
The next phase of the project is choosing a contractor, a process Marks hopes will begin this fall. Officials anticipate work on the new configuration can begin at the start of spring construction season, and Marks believes its impacts can be mitigated in spite of the potential for disruption.
“Of course, one of the challenges of a project like this with an active transit station is making sure we don’t compromise any of the service during the construction, so of course it’ll be phased to minimize impacts to transit service,” she said. “There will likely be some bus stops that are relocated during different phases of the project and our goal is to minimize that and really focus on getting people there safely during all phases of the construction.”
The city is hopeful that this project can spark similar renovations at other local Metro stations, in addition to the planned construction of an infill station at Potomac Yard. The Braddock Road station was selected for an overhaul by WMATA last year, and Marks is hopeful that a project there as well as others can be pushed forward.
“We would love to see improvements at all of our Metro stations,” she said. “The city actually is working with WMATA on a potential future joint development project at Braddock Road Metro — that’s something in the very early planning stages. There was a study done at the Van Dorn Metro station in the last year looking at some efficiency and improvements to circulation at that station, so we hope that’ll be something.
“There was some funding the council approved in this budget, so we hope in the next couple of years we’ll be seeing some improvements out there. We actually have a project at the Eisenhower Avenue Metro as well. We do have projects at all four of our Metro stations, and of course there’s the future Potomac Yard Metro station, so that’ll be number five.”