Council OKs revised Potomac Yard Metro budget, sets stage to vote on outfalls fix

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Renderings of the Potomac Yard metro from 2016.
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By Alexa Epitropoulos | aepitropoulos@alextimes.com 

City council unanimously approved a revised funding proposal for the Potomac Yard Metro station and received a presentation outlining the road forward regarding sewer outfalls at its Tuesday night legislative meeting.

The meeting also contained some late-inning fireworks as Vice Mayor Justin Wilson and Mayor Allison Silberberg clashed during councilors’ oral presentations.

Deputy City Manager Emily Baker said WMATA is on the verge of awarding a contract for the construction of the Potomac Yard Metro station. The city has revised its budget for the station, however, due to the cost of construction companies’ project proposals, among other factors.

The revised cost, Baker said, is $320 million, with $30 million set aside for contingency costs. That’s $52 million higher than the $268 million proposed in 2010.

The proposal calls for the city to fund $83 million through general obligation bonds, $70 million with a Northern Virginia Transportation Authority grant, $50 million with a state Virginia Transportation Infrastructure Bank loan, $88 million with a federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan and $29 million through other sources.

City Manager Mark Jinks said the city secured a VTIB loan at a locked interest rate of 2.2 percent, but that the federal TIFIA loan hadn’t been secured at this point. 

The amount of the TIFIA loan could range from $88 million to $106 million. If the city secures a TIFIA loan for more than $88 million, the amount the city would fund in general obligation bonds would decrease accordingly. As the city waits for the general obligation bonds and TIFIA confirmation, Jinks is proposing securing a $210 million line of credit from one or two banks as a “short term bridge.” Council would vote on that proposal in a separate docket item.

Jinks also proposed delaying the developer contribution for office, retail and hotel in phase one to incentivize development and eliminating the Tier II special tax district. Potential right-of-way fees would be substituted for the revenue the city would forego by dropping plans for the special tax district, which has been met with resistance by residents.

City staff estimates the project could be completed by late 2021 or early 2022 and said some geotechnical work could begin as soon as late this year.

Councilor Paul Smedberg asked when the city would be given a definite response about the TIFIA loan. City staff responded that the process could take between three to six months. Mayor Allison Silberberg asked if there were any incentives on the table to encourage the contractor to complete the project early.

“There’s no contractual incentive or reward for early completion, but for the contractor, it’s in their best interest to come early,” City Acting Director of Project Implementation Mitch Bernstein said.

Council unanimously voted to send the revised Potomac Yard metro budget forward and directed the city manager to introduce a separate ordinance to sunset the special tax district.

Baker also made a presentation about the city’s plan to fix its four outfalls by July 1, 2025 – the deadline mandated by legislation signed by former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2017.

Baker said staff and the city’s partner in the project, Alex Renew Enterprises, had been working with a 14-member stakeholder group to get public input on proposals to fix the outfalls. The group was working with three base options: Option A, which would connect outfalls three and four and, separately, outfalls one and two to the Alex Renew facility and provides for the construction of a wet weather facility; Option B, which would bring all outfalls together in a unified tunnel at Alex Renew; and Option C, which would be similar to option A, but would use tanks within the wet weather facility.

The stakeholder group, Baker said, responded most positively to option B, but pushed for some changes. The result, an improved Option B, calls for a dual use facility at Alex Renew that could be used for overflow during extreme wet weather conditions, which would accomplish the goals of a wet weather facility and could be used, during normal weather conditions, for other purposes.

The stakeholder group was unanimous in their endorsement of the improved Option B, according to Baker. The next step in the process is getting authorization from council to move forward with that option and, pending the approval, submitting the plan to the Department of Environmental Quality.

Baker asked for the council vote on authorizing the plan to wait until the public comment period ends on April 23. If approved, the city’s tentative plan would be to complete preliminary engineering throughout 2018 and 2019, start construction on a unified tunnel in 2021 and to start construction on a dual-use wet weather facility in the third quarter of 2023. The city estimates the project could be completed by its deadline in the second quarter of 2025.

“The schedule shows you that we believe we can deliver this. This program can make a difference. It’s still early, but we’re optimistic about meeting that,” Baker said.

The outfalls plan will be discussed at the public hearing on Saturday and will come to council for a final vote at its next legislative meeting on April 24. Baker said council would likely hear an additional request to transfer ownership of the outfalls to Alex Renew next month.

Council also considered the Alexandria Fire Department’s grant application
to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant program.

The federal grant would allow the fire department to increase the men or women on all ladder companies to four. The federal government would cover 100 percent of their salaries in the first year. The federal funding would decrease to 75 percent in the second year, to 35 percent in the third year and would be fully funded by local government in the fourth year.

The fire department said the amount it would save in overtime would make up for the amount the city would have to pay for the staffing in the second year and, in the third year, the department plans to replace two single-role medic positions with dual role medic/firefighters. Council approved the fire department’s request unanimously.

Tensions between Silberberg and Wilson, who is challenging Silberberg in the mayoral contest, flared during oral presentations at the end of the meeting.

Though several topics were heatedly debated, tempers boiled over after Wilson, along with Councilor Paul Smedberg, proposed folding the Parker-Gray Board of Architectural Review into that of the Old and Historic District. As Silberberg and Councilor Del Pepper repeatedly challenged the proposal, Wilson became visibly frustrated and increasingly animated.

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