WMATA and City Haggle Over Potomac Yard Metro Southern Access Costs

(Updated 1/31) While construction is underway on the Potomac Yard Metro station, progress on the station’s planned southern access point is being stalled by a financing squabble between the city and WMATA.

The original southern entrance to the Metro station was cut from early plans to save money. As something of a consolation prize, a path to a pedestrian bridge, from neighborhoods to the south to the entrance on the north side of the station, was added.

The city has put forward two potential designs for the southern access to the bridge. At a Potomac Yard Metrorail Implementation Work Group on Monday, however, city staff said there have been some hiccups with regard to financing the southern access.

The pedestrian bridge is planned to cross over the train tracks next to the station and connect to a junction city staff called a “knuckle.” The plan approved by City Council features a northern pavillion, leading to the pedestrian bridge, and a 520-foot ramp going south. A second option under consideration calls for a pedestrian bridge of similar length connecting to a southern pavilion, rather than the ramp. The southern pavillion in the second option would include a staircase and two elevators.

WMATA is currently negotiating a price for the southern access infrastructure, but staff and city officials warned that the estimates are coming back higher than the $50 million allocated in a state grant.

“They provided a number,” Wilson summarized at the meeting. “Their number is much higher than we believe the number should be. You guys [staff] are going to go back with a number you’re willing to pay, an offer, that you feel is a reasonable number.”

City staff said the next steps are to determine if the prices negotiated by WMATA are reasonable given current market costs, and to get approval from oversight agencies. Despite the back and forth over costs, staff said the plan is still to have the southern access open along with the rest of the Metro station in two years.

While the discussions over the price of the southern access continue, staff said their recommendation would be to continue with the planned knuckle design and add whichever southern entrance the city can afford within budget constraints.

“We are going to complete southwest access concurrent with or very close to the station opening in March 2022,” staff said. “That is the staff’s goal and the community’s goal.”

Across the rest of the site, some construction has already begun. The project broke ground in December and pile driving started yesterday (Wednesday). Pile driving is expected to take four weeks to complete, according to a press release from the City of Alexandria.

Despite the city’s promises — or perhaps because of them given some past controversy — some residents at the meeting said they were concerned that the budget discussion was the first step towards eliminating the southern access entirely.

“We have a huge fear that people say, ‘You know what, we have the station now, it’s not that far a walk. You guys can go get the access over there at the north pavilion,’ and we get nothing,” one neighbor said at the meeting. “I think it’s a genuine risk that has high probability and significant impact.”

Some residents asked the city to start over and have contractors bid on contracts again to get better use of the $50 million given by the state, but Wilson said that comes with its own risk.

“It could be that we could go back to market and it turns out the numbers aren’t wacky and they come back way above [what we currently have], so we don’t have an option that is affordable,” Wilson said. “If we wanted an excuse, we would have pulled the plug a year ago.”