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Alexandria weighing Metro station alternatives

Alexandria is weighing five potential locations for a future Potomac Yard Metrorail station, along the Yellow and Blue Lines between National Airport and Braddock Road. The Potomac Yard section of Alexandria represents a huge opportunity for walkable, transit-oriented development right on a major Metro corridor. As presentations from the project team make clear, the potential amount of residential and office space, as well as the prices Alexandria will receive for its land and its future tax revenue, depend enormously on building Metro and on the proximity to the station.

Concept rendering for an aerial station at Alternative D2.

An existing reservation allocated space for the station alongside the existing Metro tracks. However, the tracks run along the east side of the CSX tracks, while the potential development is all to the west. Except for the Potomac Greens townhouses, there's little on that side of the tracks besides the GW Parkway, parkland, and the Potomac River.

All told, 77% of the land within a half mile of the station has no potential for development. In addition, the reservation sits along the flight path to National Airport, and the FAA limits building heights in that area. In Arlington's Smart Growth Journey, Chris Zimmerman explains that along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, 75% of Metro riders come from the quarter mile closest to each station, making maximizing the station's walkshed extremely important.

Station location alternatives.

Two alternatives keep the station on the railroad tracks, but move it to the north, away from the flight path. Those locations area closer to the existing Potomac Yard shopping center, which is one of the largest redevelopment opportunities in the area. Both alternatives (B2 and B3 on the above diagram) would move 2 million square feet of future development into the ¼-mile circle, and 4 million into the ½-mile circle, while costing little or nothing more than the existing reserved location (alternative A).

Alternative C2 would construct segment branching off the Metro tracks, running parallel to and closer to Route 1, then rejoining the current line around Four Mile Run. It would combine aerial and underground segments, with the station itself being underground. It would place the station closest to the greatest number of residences and offices, including almost three times as much within ¼ mile, but would also cost about three times as much to build.

The D alternatives seem most promising. These would be aerial lines that run closer to the tracks than C2, but still provide a stop in the middle of what's now the Potomac Yard Center. Each reaches almost as much development, 9.5 million square feet within ¼ mile compared to 10 million under C2 and 3.5 million under A. However, D1 would only cost about 65% more than A and B, and D2, the most recent addition, only about 44% more.

D2 seems to provide the best benefit for the buck. Spending that buck is definitely in Alexandria's best long-term interest. The transportation study estimates that 35% of trips to and from the office, retail and residential development would take transit with a Metro station at Alternative A. More would under Alternative D. Meanwhile, only 14% would take transit without a station.

Just having a Metro station also significantly increases the development potential of the site as well as the tax revenue per square foot Alexandria will receive. Opportunities to develop infill Metro stations on the existing system are extremely limited.

Left: Development potential of Landbay F (current Potomac Yard shopping center) with and without Metro. Right: Potential density within ¼ and ½ mile of station for alternative locations.

Arlington's Rosslyn-Ballston corridor covers only 7.6% of the county's land area, but generated 33% of its tax revenue. For Alexandria, maximizing the potential of the existing Metro line will relieve the need for higher taxes and reduce development pressure in existing residential neighborhoods farther from transit.

Via The Arlandrian.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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I notice that alternative C1 is not mentioned in the article, I presume because it would cost even more then alternative C2, but I wanted to know if anyone had ridership projections versus cost on it?

by Art on Jun 3, 2009 11:20 am • linkreport

What is most wonderful about the "D" plans is that the wretchedly designed Potomac Yards shopping center will be turned into something far more urban.

by NikolasM on Jun 3, 2009 11:30 am • linkreport

Art: According to this presentation, they dropped C1 because it would put an aerial Metro line through existing development on the other side of Four Mile Run, which is in Arlington.

by David Alpert on Jun 3, 2009 11:36 am • linkreport

C1 has been ruled out: "No longer being considered due to impact to existing development". See the location analysis at:

by KB on Jun 3, 2009 11:36 am • linkreport

David and KB,

That's truely unfortunate, alternative C1 looks like it would take the proposed metro stop furthest away from the airport height restrictions. I guess then I would have to support alternative C2

by Art on Jun 3, 2009 11:51 am • linkreport

Potomac yards is nothing like the Orange Line corridor. It's too easy to over-estimate the tax benefit, esp. given the likelihood that development will languish for many years to come. the emphasis needs to be elsehwre in terms of how any one proposal would be an asset to the community and justify its cost.

by Rich on Jun 3, 2009 12:00 pm • linkreport

@ Rich: It's also easy to talk stuff down without any arguments.

by Jasper on Jun 3, 2009 1:00 pm • linkreport

I love this, since my ancestral manse is within a mile of any of the planned locations. Any estimate on completion time? I suppose that depends on which design they pick?

by Simon on Jun 3, 2009 2:14 pm • linkreport

Rich, why do you think development there will languish? Have you seen how fast the Arlington portion of Potomac Yard has been developed? And there's not even a Metro station there!

by RichardatCourthouse on Jun 3, 2009 3:24 pm • linkreport

I'd also point out that it took decades for Rosslyn-Ballston to develop fully (and it still hasn't). Arlington made a very, very long-term investment.

by David Alpert on Jun 3, 2009 3:26 pm • linkreport

As much as I like a tunnel, I was pretty well convinced by Alexandria's analysis that the aerial alignments (D1, D2) are the best bang for the buck. And the tunnel option would have an underground station, but much of it would still be aerial to go up and over the CSX tracks at both ends. The drastically higher expense didn't seem worth it, given that the aerials can support almost as much development.

by RichardatCourthouse on Jun 3, 2009 3:28 pm • linkreport

Another advantage of the C and D alternatives: They don't require serious disruption of existing service while being constructed. Building A and B would require much more single tracking.

by Eric H. on Jun 3, 2009 7:37 pm • linkreport

Arlington made a very, very long-term investment.

Which will keep generating tax income forever. Forever. Which means that the write-off of the investment can also be done over a very long time. So, actually, the investment is very cheap.

C1 has been ruled out: "No longer being considered due to impact to existing development".

With that argument none of metro could have been built in DC. It's bogus.

BTW: Why not shoot a tunnel under Route 1 between 33rd and Glebe and then return to the old tracks under the bridge between Monroe and Slater? If you do it that way, I could even envision two Potomac Yard stations, one on the Northern and one on the Southern end...

by Jasper on Jun 3, 2009 8:51 pm • linkreport

looking at the 1/4 and 1/2 mile walksheds (or whatever you want to call them) for all the stations in alexandria, it would seem that the smartest long-term investment would be to place 2 stations in the gap between the airport stop and braddock road. sure, it would cost more right now, but we really need to get away from the short-term view we take to all infrastructure projects here in the US.

by IMGoph on Jun 3, 2009 9:05 pm • linkreport


The argument against C1 isn't bogus. Metro has certain technical requirements about length of track that must be straight leading up to a station, track grade, etc. The development in southern Crystal City combined with the location of the existing track makes it actually impossible to build without major overhaul to the existing system in the area.


I completely agree. Two stations in that gap makes infinitely more sense to maximize options for existing residents of Del Ray, Arlandria, northern parts of Old Town, and the new development in the Potomac Yard area. If you look at the gap between the Metro in Crystal City and the the Braddock Rd Metro, this single infill station only covers part of the need.

by Nick Partee on Jun 3, 2009 10:55 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: The Arlington argument is constantly dragged out by David for every locality whether it makes sense or not (often it doesn't). That area was degraded in a way that this isn't. The last bubble in DC real estate, along with the c. 1990 bubble account for much of the growth in Arlington's tax base. This is unlikely to recur, let alone recur somewhere else. The long-term redevelopment of the Potomac Yards area is likely to be slowed and not to have the kind of growth seen in Arlington. That was my point. A realistc argument has to be made for the infrastructure development here as opposed to say, funding any number of other infrastructure projects in the region.

by Rich on Jun 3, 2009 11:19 pm • linkreport

@Nick -- re your comment to @Jasper... I can think of a few stations where there isn't straight track leading into the station at all... Gallery Place on the E side comes to mind. Also, what about Orange tracks to and from Rosslyn? The switcher is just past the platform.

by Matt Glazewski on Jun 4, 2009 7:59 am • linkreport

@ Rich: You don't believe certain assumptions about the development of certain parts of town and present those as an argument. It is not. You just don't believe certain predictions. But your disbelieve is not motivated, which means it's not really an argument.

I do not see why the DC area would not keep growing. It is bucking all national economic trends (due to the presence of the federal government). DC is the third most congested city in the nation. We need more transportation options. Fill-in stations are cheap. More people want to live in high-density areas near metro stations. The housing crisis is most present on the exurbs. Bethesda is flourishing. Carlyle in Alexandria. Tyson's corner is being shuffled around for the arrival of the silver line. Even Leesburg is waking up. There is no reason why the same could not happen to Potomac Yards. In fact, its proximity to Reagan and downtown DC only makes it more desirable than the other areas.

by Jasper on Jun 4, 2009 9:08 am • linkreport

Will this be a two line station, or would one of the lines bypass it and continue on the old tracks?

by Jamie on Jun 4, 2009 10:02 am • linkreport

@Jamie - it is planned to be a joint Yellow/Blue station.

I always had a vision that the Blue line would veer off somewhere around there and head toward Shirlington, providing more exclusive service rather than redundant service all the way to King Street, but I'm not a metro planner. :-)

by Matt Glazewski on Jun 4, 2009 10:34 am • linkreport

Why exactly aren't they considering two stations?

A station a few feet south of Four Mile Run provides for a pedestrian bridge to National Gateway's high-rises (which also directly connects to a tunnel to National Airport Parking & to Four Mile Run Trail). It's closer to parts of Crystal City than the Crystal City Metro is. It perfectly serves the existing strip-mall development, which has enough parking that it can build upwards without disrupting Metro users.

A station 800 feet south of choice A provides for parts of Alexandria (like the besieged, half-closed Mirant coal powerplant) to redevelop, offers access to Daingerfield Island, gives the ability to easily walk to large areas ripe for development in lots I and J, and gives closer Metro access for places like Marine Towers & Harbor Terrace.

Two stations arranged thusly, in the existing RoW (which is narrow, but not too narrow by any means with a little re-tracking), provide for a less than half-mile walkshed distance to the blue line for the ENTIRETY of Potomac Yard, including National Gateway and all lots in Alexandria's development plan for $350M. It creates an unbroken chain of land within a half mile of a Metro station from the Pentagon to Huntington.

Alternative E deserves to be here if C and D are even to be mentioned.

by Squalish on Jun 4, 2009 10:49 am • linkreport

I don't think Nick's original comment was all that far off as land development is likely to be slower than it was when the economy was booming just a few years ago. However, the important thing is that Metro stops represent a long term investment that has enormous potential for the area (even if the economy takes a good chunk of time to rebound).

Personally I believe one of the endearing qualities that makes places like Clarendon so appealing is the fact that the noise from the Metro is limited because it is below ground. Although much more costly, I would think this option may have additional benefits over time.

by Mike on Jun 4, 2009 1:58 pm • linkreport

@ Mike: Personally I believe one of the endearing qualities that makes places like Clarendon so appealing is the fact that the noise from the Metro is limited because it is below ground. Although much more costly, I would think this option may have additional benefits over time.

It just depends on how you define "cost". If you only look in monetary terms, a tunnel is more expensive. If you include other factors, it might not be. Just go and check out the monstrosity that is the elevated end of the yellow line from King St to Huntington. Brrrr. So ugly.

by Jasper on Jun 4, 2009 3:34 pm • linkreport

The comment I made earlier about technical requirements is based on a document presented to the Potomac Yard Planning Advisory Group (There are a ton of related documents here). B/c of the position the National Gateway high rises, the CSX tracks that are already there, existing bridges over Four Mile Run, etc. C1 probably couldn't work without a really long and deep tunnel starting way back in Crystal City. This might be possible given unlimited resources, but the cost would be quite a bit higher than the $500M that has been discussed. I'd prefer C1 since it's the closest to my house (I'm west of Potomac Yard).

@Squalish: I asked someone who follows the situation about the possibility for developers in National Gateway helping foot the bill for a Metro that benefits them on the north end of PY but was told since those deals are all well underway, there is little chance of getting any buy-in from them. Then there's the whole Arlington/Alexandria issue. I would think the local governments could work together to jointly fun a station whose walkshed affects both areas, but it doesn't seem likely. It's frustrating.

by Nick Partee on Jun 4, 2009 5:50 pm • linkreport

Matt Glazewski,

The specification for tangent track at station platforms is 750', that's 75' of tangent beyond both ends. Those conditions exist at both Gallery Place and Rosslyn. The maximum grade at the platform is 0.35%. The maximum grade on main line tracks is 4.00%. Vertical curves are allowed to begin at the ends of platforms. In all cases where there are interlockings (crossovers and switch) just beyond the end of platform those interlockings are on the same grade as the station platform.

by Sand Box John on Jun 5, 2009 1:24 am • linkreport

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