Sunday, March 29, 2009

At What Cost?

Sign for the Potomac Yard Metro Station on the east side of the tracks.

Yesterday's post on the Arlandrian raised an interesting issue prompted by discussion of the Potomac Yard Planning Advisory Group.

This group, charged with giving input into some basic issues confronting the proposed redevelopment of the Potomac Yard Retail Center, discussed possible options for the placement of a new, in-fill Metro station. There's a lot of history behind previous land-use decisions that have gotten us to this point -- too much to review here (once up a time there was talk of TWO stations with another at South Glebe Road) -- but instructive nonetheless regarding whether the current vision will ever see fruition.

The bottom line is that it's a matter of cost. The estimate for an in-fill station at the current location reserved for Metro is approximately $120 million. This is what it would take to put a station at the end of East Glebe Road behind the future town center (recently approved) that is slated to come just south of the current Target store. What complicates the new construction is that the Metro rail line runs to the east of freight rail lines. That is, the new Metro station would have to be built on the wrong side of the tracks from where any new development would occur in Potomac Yard.

The advisory group's idea would instead underground the station and tracks and place a station closer to Route 1. This would put the station nearer existing populations and in the middle of any new development that comes out of the current studies. The back of the envelope cost estimate puts this at 3-4 times the cost of the in-fill station. A lot of money.

The current strategy is the find a level of development amenable to the public that also provides a developer enough revenue to pay for the station. The $100 million would be a big hit to any developer's plan...$300-$400 million even more so. But is it unprecedented?

BeyondDC had this story yesterday that gives a little perspective. It talks about the complaints about new VRE service that is costing the Commonwealth almost $20 million, but "less than the $20 million it costs to design and build a one-mile stretch of new road." It goes on to talk about the relative costs of other projects, such as the $127 million-per-mile that the Inter-County Connector will cost in Maryland and the $27 million-per-mile that the Columbia Pike Street Car project will cost in Arlington.

So what's is really worth to get Metro in Potomac Yard? Is it worth a mile of new highway?

Metro Station marker with view of new Potomac Yard Fire Station construction on East Glebe in background.
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