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Hope remains for Potomac Yard Metro west of CSX tracks

While most plans for a Potomac Yard Metro station place it along the current tracks, hope remains alive for a better option: placing the station on the west side of the CSX tracks, closer to planned infill development. This would maximize the number of potential riders and best reduce traffic.

Photo by Arlington CPHD on Flickr.

At a meeting last night on station alternatives, staff revealed that they're still evaluating this option, D3. They don't yet have a cost estimate, but expect to know by February. Meanwhile, this option is tentatively listed as "technically and financially feasible."

The Potomac Yard infill metro station began its environmental review process late last year. There are 4 general alternatives, A through D, with various sub-options. Alternatives A and B propose a station in the current Metrorail right-of-way, separated from existing and future development by the CSX tracks.

Station location alternatives.

Alternative C, meanwhile, proposed an underground station to the west of the CSX tracks under the existing shopping center. The station entrances would be between Potomac Avenue and Jefferson Davis Highway.

While this location would maximize projected ridership and effect on development, the underground station would be extremely expensive. Based on the EIS scoping document, they were ruled out as technically and financially unfeasible. The proximity to Four Mile Run and the CSX tracks appears to be to blame.

Finally, Alternative D proposed an aerial station where the tracks would rise over their current location, cross over to the west side of the the CSX tracks, then return to the east side after the station to rejoin the existing tracks. This alternative doesn't have the station as far west as the underground alternatives, instead leaving it just to the east of Potomac Avenue.

Like the underground options, the original two aerial alternatives, D1 and D2, had been deemed prohibitively expensive and/or technically unfeasible. But during the scoping phase of the EIS, a new D3 option arose that would place the station inside the Potomac Yard development footprint.

Though D3 was listed as financially feasible, at the meeting to review the report last night, it was revealed that an estimate for option D3 hasn't been nailed down yet. However, the implementation group must have a ballpark figure in mind to list D3 as financially feasible. An estimate will be revealed by a meeting on February 6.

While the A and all 3 B alternatives that remain also meet these four criteria, D3 has a benefit the others do not.

Alternative D3 is the last remaining alternative which places the station on the west side of the CSX right-of-way. This is important, because options the Route 1 side of the CSX tracks move the Metro closer to more potential riders and will therefore increase potential ridership. Proposed development will surely increase the number of trips to and from the area, so capturing the most possible trips via transit is essential for traffic mitigation.

With option D3 still on the table, the Potomac Yard Metro station could serve almost as many people as the underground and alternate aerial options for a much smaller cost.

The advisory group found that the D (aerial station) and C (underground station) alternatives significantly increase the amount of potential development, and therefore people, that fall within the ¼-mile and ½-mile walkshed. They move the station further into the eventual PY development area, and closer to the existing medium density neighborhoods to the west.

Alternative A would serve significantly fewer people without a lengthy walk. This will drive many away from Metro as a feasible transportation option. The new D3 option is closer to options B1, B2, and B3 than the other rejected aerial options, but will still save a lot of walking as well as stairs, escalators, and elevators required to go up, over the CSX tracks, and back down to a Metro platform.

Unfortunately, options D1 and D2 were rejected as they did not prove technically feasible. Both aerial options were farther north and so would have served the densest part of the planned development most conveniently. You can review the scoping presentation for more information about feasibility.

Other new alternatives that were considered during the scoping session and found incompatible with stated goals were a VRE station, parking garages, and additional stations developed in other parts of Alexandria. When a final alternative is chosen, it will be compared with the no-build scenario.

At that point, the PY Metro Station Implementation Work Group will send the EIS forward to WMATA. The public has opportunities for input throughout. Here is the high level project schedule, with the station projected to open in 2016.

The final decision on the station alternative is far from made. One of the reasons the 'D' series of alternatives was rejected earlier was the developer didn't want to deal with building out the PY development while working around Metro construction. This is still a possible concern, though the new alignment may have been devised to mitigate this impact.

It is also possible that option D3 is still more expensive than option 'A' and the various 'B' options. However the D3 option remains the last possibility to make the Potomac Yard metro station truly the center of a future transit oriented development node.

Cross-posted at The Arlandrian.

Nick Partee writes for The Arlandrian about neighborhoods on the north end of Alexandria. He helped start up and still helps run the weekly Four Mile Run Farmers and Artisans Market. His primary interest is making Arlandria and surrounding neighborhoods greater by applying successful urban principles to build a sustainable community. He can be seen spending far too much of his free time running the farmers market, "geurrilla gardening", or coordinating other volunteer efforts to eek out every ounce of potential he can in Arlandria. 


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If I understand this correctly, and perhaps I don't, but if the new station is not on the current Metrorail right-of-way, does that mean trains would detour off of the Blue/Yellow line to serve the station? Or would Metro shift the tracks and use the existing configuration as a pocket track?

by Jamie Scott on Oct 28, 2011 10:22 am • linkreport

My suspicion is that the rest of the EIS will eliminate the A and B options, leaving D3 as all or nothing. The environmental impact of B may be untenable - you're talking about building an at-grade station on top of what is now wetlands. That is also a concern for A and in addition Potomac Greens residents are going to fight hard to not have a station in their backyards.

I'm fine with D3, but it won't be cheap, nothing like the $150-200MM that people were initially talking about.

by movement on Oct 28, 2011 10:34 am • linkreport

Considering that they just invented the concept for D3, I don't believe those questions have been answered definitively. Leaving a pocket track makes sense though.

by movement on Oct 28, 2011 10:41 am • linkreport

When the NY Ave Metro was built, the old outbound Red Line tracks were disconnected and abandoned (you can see them from the platform today).

A siding is a lot less useful to Metro than a pocket track. Presumably the same will be done here, because Potomac Yards will be close to the DCA pocket track, lie between two crossovers, and won't be particularly far from the Alexandria railyard.

by andrew on Oct 28, 2011 12:09 pm • linkreport


DCA pocket track is no longer (fully) functional - some of the turnouts were removed circa 2006 - see

by p5k6 on Oct 28, 2011 12:36 pm • linkreport

Something not mentioned in the article but talked about at-length at the meeting (in particular by one Potomac Greens resident) is how the B alternatives would be built right on top of the wetlands in question. This resident was very frustrated that we were "wasting money on a wetlands study when it's obvious there's wetlands there!" I couldn't tell from her tone if she was against the project overall or just against the B alternatives.

Also noted was how the owner of Landbay G (along East Glebe) was against the aerial station alternatives.

by Froggie on Oct 28, 2011 12:39 pm • linkreport

This argueing is ridiculous. I'll be 100 years old before they finally build something.

by LuvDusty on Oct 28, 2011 1:30 pm • linkreport

The point of this part of the EIS is to identify the set of viable options. Doing an environmental impact study is expensive and you don't want to waste time and money doing one for non-viable options.

There is a schedule for these things. If the project moves forward, we'll probably have something in 2016 which was always the plan.

by movement on Oct 28, 2011 1:39 pm • linkreport

@movement, but LuvDusty is 97 years old, so their statement remains true.

by David C on Oct 28, 2011 2:53 pm • linkreport

@movement Oh I know. But the other point of the EIS is that it has to evaluate *ALL* potential alternatives, even those that would impact wetlands.

by Froggie on Oct 29, 2011 10:03 am • linkreport

If the Metro line is moved west, the CSX tracks should be moved along with them. There shouldn't be a series of tracks dividing the area, like the freeway and railroad tracks do to the Toronto waterfront area.

by Frank IBC on Oct 29, 2011 12:15 pm • linkreport


The division caused by the tracks isn't about where the tracks are, but metro's position relative to the CSX tracks. Move all of the tracks westward and keep Metro on the eastern side, and you haven't solved the fundamental issue - that the infill station would be "on the wrong side of the tracks."

by Alex B. on Oct 29, 2011 1:00 pm • linkreport

I wonder if there's any way an earlier flyover - say something immediately after Braddock Rd station - would work. That way it wouldn't be an eyesore for Potomac Greens, the stairs/elevators/escalators could be elimated at the Potomac Yard station, and there is a flyover to cross the GW Parkway anyway, so it wouldn't be much to get back across.

by Cephas on Nov 1, 2011 3:31 pm • linkreport

@Cephas, There are already buildings being built in the southern portion of Potomac Yard, so it makes more sense to leave the track within it's right of way as long as possible. Also, the flyover north of Potomac Yard is well into Crystal City, so you'd have to get rid of the new Potomac Avenue to make that work, and there's no real reason for that alignment. The existing D3 alternative makes more sense.

by Nick P. on Nov 2, 2011 6:40 am • linkreport

I'd love to know if they will be changing the tax assessment zone if they move the station north.

by Jason on Feb 26, 2012 3:35 pm • linkreport

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