The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Feds release updated $8.8 billion redevelopment plan for Union Station

The revised vision for the rail station includes less parking, an underground drop-off area, and integrated bus, pedestrian and bike access

A rendering of the new train hall planned at Union Station as part of a multibillion-dollar redevelopment. (Federal Railroad Administration/U.S. Commission of Fine Arts)
6 min

The Federal Railroad Administration unveiled a revised concept late Friday for the redevelopment of Union Station, laying out a future transit hub with far less parking, pickup and drop-off traffic below ground, and more fully integrated access for pedestrians, bikes and buses.

The new plan comes two years after the federal agency paused its analysis of the project to amend key aspects that were widely criticized as keeping the station too car-centric. The District had opposed a multilevel parking garage featured in a vision released three years ago, while officials and residents demanded better access for foot and bike traffic.

The proposed expansion of the 115-year-old train hub, estimated in the report to cost $8.8 billion for construction alone, calls for a transformation of the nation’s second-busiest intercity rail hub by 2040. It will add wide rail platforms, an integrated bus terminal, a new train hall and updated concourses lined with shops and restaurants that provide easy access to Metrorail, buses, taxis, ride-shares, streetcars and parking. The station’s historic main hall will be preserved.

The roughly 300-page report brings the required federal environmental studies closer to completion. After a comment period this summer, the FRA is expected to complete the review, which would move the project toward construction. The FRA said it will host two public hearings next month and will welcome public comment until July 6.

Union Station has fallen on hard times. Can it be saved?

This would be Union Station’s first major facelift in more than three decades, an investment that railroad and city officials say will help to move more passenger trains through the busy Northeast Corridor while modernizing a critical gateway to the nation’s capital. Regional elected leaders recently called on the Biden administration to expedite the federal review and to help secure federal money for a project that still lacks financing.

“We cannot delay the project indefinitely and ensure the station continues to function,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said earlier this week as she and 14 other members of Congress sent a letter to the administration urging financial support.

Former D.C. mayor Anthony Williams, who has been pushing for the redevelopment of Union Station as executive director of the Federal City Council, said the new plan is a major milestone and takes the region a step closer to having “a truly worldclass vision for the next century of the Nation’s Station.”

“Union Station is still one of the city’s greatest assets,” he said, adding the expansion of it “is the greatest transportation and economic development opportunity in our region’s infrastructure pipeline.”

The station, which opened in 1907 in the heart of the nation’s capital, is owned by the federal government but is leased to and operated by other entities. Amtrak owns the station’s platforms and railroad tracks. The U.S. government in 1985 authorized the nonprofit Union Station Redevelopment Corp. (USRC) to oversee the property.

The proposed expansion ranks as a top contender in the Northeast Corridor for federal infrastructure money through the law President Biden signed in 2021. About $66 billion is earmarked for rail over five years, while the project also could use millions of additional dollars available for transit and other infrastructure projects. Proponents say they expect construction will be done in phases and require multiple sources of funding.

The FRA said in a statement Friday evening that it is looking to the District, Maryland and Virginia to work together to help launch the project, adding that it “will require funding partners prepared to engage and invest to ensure the continued viability of this important historic multimodal transportation hub.”

Once-vibrant gateway to U.S. capital falls on hard times. Some hope to fix it.

Under the revised concept, Union Station would have parking for 400 to 550 cars in a new underground facility that also would serve as a location for passenger pickups and drop-offs. Zones for vehicle traffic also would remain in front of the station and at various entry points into the complex.

The plan also calls for up to 39 bus slips in a new facility that would connect directly to the train hall. An additional 15 spots for buses would be available during the peak travel season.

The new plan includes additional pedestrian and bicycle ramps on the west and east sides of the station and more bike parking and storage.

The parking option is a major downsizing from the earlier proposal that called for a six-story, 1,600-space garage, as well as from its existing capacity of nearly 2,200 parking spaces. The change would result in reduced parking revenue, which is a critical source of income for the station, the FRA said, noting that an expanded station will require new sources of income for maintenance and operations.

Although the move of parking below grade would add cost to the project, the FRA report said the elimination of the parking garage will allow for additional development above the rail terminal. That future development would consist of about 500,000 square feet of mixed uses, the report said.

The plans already include a separate private development in the airspace above the train tracks. Developer Akridge is planning to add up to a dozen buildings — a mix of residential, office, hotel and cultural uses — along 15 acres of air rights it owns from north of Union Station to K Street NE.

The estimated $3 billion project, known as Burnham Place, is contingent upon the station’s redevelopment.

A first look at plans for the new Union Station in D.C.

The renovation would triple passenger capacity and transform the station into a hub for high-speed rail. Project documents completed before the pandemic said the existing platforms and waiting areas were at or exceeding capacity.

The station’s foot traffic and train operations have been reduced during the pandemic. Before 2020, Union Station had about 40 million visitors each year. It is the Washington region’s busiest transit hub, connecting Amtrak, Metro, Virginia Railway Express, Maryland MARC commuter trains, and intercity and local buses.

The FRA’s assessment says ridership growth at the station will be constrained if no improvements are made. The agency projects demand at the station could be two to three times higher than pre-pandemic levels by 2040.

Although plans call for station upgrades to be finished in about 18 years, much of the timetable is unclear. The federal environmental review of the project, which began in 2015, is at least three years behind schedule. Once the federal approval process is complete, a design phase is likely to take several years, project officials said, possibly followed by 13 years of construction.

Renderings of the proposed redevelopment were presented to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts last year, offering a glimpse of the proposal to turn the aging station into a modern, multimodal transit hub.