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FRA a Bummer for Union Station’s Burnham Place

by Nena Perry-Brown

Over the past eight years, UrbanTurf has been following the proposed Burnham Place development, which would deliver more than three million square feet of walkable mixed-use development using the air rights above the Union Station railyard. However, as the Federal Railway Administration (FRA) prepares to announce its preferred option for the expansion of Union Station, the gulf between these two visions is coming into focus.

On Tuesday night, Burnham Place developer Akridge shared their reactions to the six expansion alternatives the FRA has put forth as part of its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). In essence, none of the six alternatives are compatible with the development Akridge has in mind.

The FRA's priorities with the impact statement are to make room for a train hall structure, rail, bus, and parking. To Akridge, however, the placement of these structures in each of the FRA's presented alternatives would limit potential development surrounding the site, and from a more practical standpoint, will also limit the number of access points to and from and the walkability surrounding the station. 

Rendering of Akridge's proposed bus station and plaza entrance to Union Station. Click to enlarge.

At last night's meeting, Akridge, ANC 6C commissioners and concerned community members expressed confusion about how the process has gotten this far without much apparent consideration for how the expansion would fit into the neighborhood. Akridge vice president of development (and 14-year ANC 6C resident) David Tuchmann described the process as "flawed".

"As we see the plans that have been proposed by the Federal Railroad Administration, we find ourselves stuck, thinking that if the plans continue the way that they're heading, what we have is an auto-focused project that doesn't prioritize neighborhood investment and neighborhood amenities," Tuchman explained.

Tuchmann counted one public meeting the FRA has held on the station expansion over the past three years and noted that Akridge has not been particularly successful in its attempts to dialogue with the FRA. The developer would like FRA's options to prioritize neighborhood compatibility, reduce parking, adjust the size and location of bus facilities, and be more strategic about pickup/dropoff zones.

Model of Akridge's alternative C1, based on FRA's option C East. Click to enlarge.

Akridge's preferred development alternative would put station pickup/dropoff partially below grade and an intercity bus station north of H Street. Bus passengers arriving by Metrorail could use an automated pedestrian walkway spanning half the distance.

The developer's alternative would also halve the parking the FRA is proposing, from 1,610-2,000 spaces between the below grade level and a new above-grade parking garage, to 600-800 parking spaces on the below grade level and in an underutilized garage in a nearby building. 

Tuchmann explained that Amtrak has not required any parking in the expansion, and that the FRA has not shared with Akridge any traffic analyses demonstrating the need for up to 2,000 parking spaces, nor contextualizing the limited changes to the current pickup/dropoff system.

Proposed pedestrian walkway from H Street to the intercity bus station. Click to enlarge.

"We haven't seen the traffic analysis, and again, we're nearing the end of a four-year process and we don't have the information to let us know, does this work, and what were the plans based on? What were the assumptions behind them?"

Akridge also noted that the FRA's proposals did not consider relocating any intercity bus parking elsewhere in the city; the developer thinks this use would be better positioned elsewhere downtown, closer to a highway exit and multiple Metro lines. 

The FRA is expected to release its draft EIS and announce its preferred alternative for the Union Station expansion early next year, after which there will likely be a public comment period of at least 45 days. In the meantime, Akridge is asking the community to rally against the options the FRA is putting forth.

The development team has posted models illustrating how Burnham Place would have to be situated in each FRA alternative, and will share information about the project and recommend persons and entities for the public to send their feedback here.

Renderings courtesy of Shalom Baranes.

Correction: The FRA is submitting its draft, not final, EIS next year. The caption has also been corrected for Alternative C1, and Akridge's proposals for the pickup/dropoff and the pedestrian walkway have also been clarified.

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/fra-a-bummer-for-burnham-place/16083

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