May 14, 2024 - Development

Union Station's long-anticipated renovation is slowly moving forward

A rendering of a futuristic train hall with passengers walking around.

A rendering of Union Station after its redevelopment. Image: Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, via Beyer Blinder Belle/Grimshaw Architects

The long-running plan to redevelop Union Station is inching forward.

Why it matters: Union Station is already a critical part of travel infrastructure for the DMV and the Northeast Corridor, and the renovation project promises to triple passenger capacity and turn the station into a high-speed rail hub.

State of play: After almost a decade of review, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released its final environmental impact statement in March regarding the station renovation — a key piece of approval that allows the project to move forward.

  • A study released last week — backed by parties including Amtrak, D.C., and the Transportation Department — outlines suggestions for how to best fund and manage the project and imparts a clear message: "The time to undertake the redevelopment of Union Station is now."

Catch up quick: The renovation of the 115-year-old station — which is still in the project development phase — is expected to cost $8.8 billion and take more than a decade.

  • Conceptual designs show Union Station's historic main hall will be preserved, but the 53 acres behind it will be reimagined into a sleek, modern concourse with a train hall, integrated bus terminal, and underground spaces for pick-up, drop-off, and parking.
  • Easy access to Metro, buses, taxis, and rideshares via new entry points are included in the conceptual design, as are ramps for bikers and pedestrians.

Meanwhile, a three million-square-foot mixed-use development called Burnham Place is planned to occupy the area above the revamped station's rail yard, with retail, housing, offices, hotels, and green space.

  • There are also plans to reimagine the H Street Bridge behind Union Station.

By the numbers: A critical part of the station's update is ensuring it's equipped to handle increasing ridership: Amtrak passengers are expected to jump 95% by 2040, with a 250% jump for VRE, 150% for MARC, and 50% for intercity buses, according to the new study by the nonprofit group InfrastructureDC.

What they're saying: "Now is really when the hard work starts to really transform the project from concept into reality," says Doug Carr, CEO of the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation (USRC), the nonprofit responsible for overseeing the station's renovation.

Yes, but: Don't expect to see a flurry of construction right out of the gate. While a timeline in the study anticipates the construction greenlight arriving in 2028, with the project substantially completed by 2040, it's likely too early to set firm dates, Carr tells Axios.

There's still much work to be done: Only 10% of the renovation project has been designed, per the study — the next big step is to secure funding for the architectural and engineering planning necessary to design 30%, says Carr.

  • "It's going to be really intense," says Laura Miller Brooks, the director of transportation and infrastructure at Federal City Council, a nonprofit organization that promotes economic development in the District. "It's not a small amount of work."

Zoom in: There are many parties with a vested interest in the station's development, including the FRA, the Department of Transportation, Amtrak, D.C., Virginia, Maryland, and the USRC.

  • Each should carry some of the funding, per the study, calling for a "combined and collaborative approach to funding that shares cost between the federal government and the region."

The intrigue: We might see some near-term investments in the station concerning "day-to-day operations," says Carr, although he couldn't yet share specifics or an exact timeline.

What we're watching: A judge ruled last month that Amtrak was acting lawfully when it moved to seize the station's commercial leasing rights from a private company two years ago via eminent domain so it could make station upgrades sooner.

  • Amtrak is aiming to take over the lease as soon as June 1, but the private company says it needs more time, reports the Washington Business Journal.

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