Our View: The big station that might

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Our View: The big station that might
Photo/Matt Sarago
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More than four years passed between City Council’s approval of a Metro station on the “Alternative B” site at Potomac Yards in May 2015 and the station’s Dec. 19, 2019 groundbreaking. Virtually every day for those four years, environmentalists of all stripes argued repeatedly and loudly that destroying more than five acres of wetlands for this site – with less damaging alternatives available – was environmentally immoral. We wholeheartedly agreed.

The wetlands site moved forward despite this chorus of dissent.

Then came the announcement last October that the station, which had been scheduled to open in April 2022, was being further delayed into 2023 because existing tracks at the Metro site were found to be unstable.

This finding does not inspire confidence that the almost $400 million station is going to be anything but a long-term lemon going forward. Even children understand that it’s unwise to build structures on soft soil.*

Consider the history of this project:

• City officials admitted that Alternative B, the wetlands site, was chosen largely because it’s where developers wanted the station placed. “Alternative B was the best fit for the overall project purpose, according to city staff. The project purpose was amended in the final Joint Permit Application to be ‘in support of currently proposed and anticipated development in the area over the next several decades.’” Nov. 28, 2019 Alexandria Times, “Potomac Yard Metro proceeds on wetlands site”

• In April 2018, a $50 million cost overrun was announced. This followed numerous prior cost escalations from the original estimates on the project in the late 2000s.

• In June 2018, the city’s narrative surrounding the removal of the project’s south entrance changed after a resident-filed FOIA was released. According to the June 7, 2018 Alexandria Times:

“The emails reveal that city officials worked behind the scenes to suppress a rendering that showed the Metro’s southern entrance had been removed from the plans and tried to keep this knowledge from the public even after a WMATA official told them it wasn’t necessary.”

• And, of course, the current delay because of unstable soil at the site.

“Construction crews discovered underlying soil issues that affected the structural stability of the ground beneath the tracks which prompted them to stop, create a remediation plan and implement the proposed remediation plan,” the Alexandria Times’ Oct. 6, 2022 story “Potomac Yard Metro delayed until 2023” said.

Will the “proposed remediation plan” actually permanently resolve the structural instability of the wetlands location of the Potomac Yard Metro station? Or is this location an endless money pit from day one? Despite assurances from WMATA officials and the city, the answer to that question is unknowable right now.

Choosing to build a massive train station in a marsh was not only environmentally unconscionable – it was also foolish. Alexandria’s leaders, past and present, own this. No one is going to get a pass if the station has continued problems with instability.

An unintended consequence is something that’s largely unforeseeable. This situation is utterly predictable.

“The foolish man built his house upon the sand. The rains came down and the floods came up. And the house on the sand went SPLAT!”

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*Abridged “Wise Man and Foolish Man” lyrics

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