Thinking Big About Union Station

Union Station TrainboardIt’s Sunday, and that means the Washington Post Sunday Magazine is out, and this weekend’s cover story is one that could impact local businesses in multiple and far-reaching ways, a subject that’s always near and dear to hearts of many of our clients. The expansive article is about a massive improvement project being considered for Union Station. There are obstacles to this plan, and of course, financing needs to be pulled together, but the scope of the proposal is nothing short of breathtaking.

The total cost would be approximately $10 billion, and would be funded through a combination of public and private funding. If the project comes to fruition, it would not just irrecoverably change Washington, DC, it would change the whole region – from Baltimore down to DC, from Frederick, MD to DC, from Richmond to DC, and from the WV state line to DC. In short, there would be changes felt almost everywhere in the Greater DC Region (or the “DMV” as it’s sometimes called, the acronym standing for DC-Maryland-Virginia), and those changes would ripple out for decades.

As the article hypothesizes, the transformation of Union Station would have the same galvanizing effect on this area regarding commerce that the construction of Grand Central Station had on New York City, and the 50-mile radius around New York City, turning it into an economic powerhouse.

It’s a given that there would be various pockets of strong opposition to such a plan. It’s an audacious, visionary plan that’s going to cost a lot of money (some of it public), it’s going to require many years of construction-related hassle, and finally, it’s going to completely change Union Station and the area around it. So, there will be immediate, and rabid, screaming from anti-tax groups about using public money to grow the area business base, there will be protests from neighborhood groups and “NIMBY” (not in my backyard) organizations, there will be people stating matter-of-factly that “rail is dead”, and there will also be people that will say that they’re all for spending the money, and moving houses and businesses around, if they could just be certain they’re going to get a good return for their trouble, people that will smugly maintain that they “just don’t believe” the projected returns, and they never will.

And those are only the major groups of naysayers – there will smaller, more numerous groups of people saying something similar to, “It’ll never work”.

With this as the backdrop, it would be so easy to throw up your hands and say the Union Station expansion will never get done the way it should be done, but let us be optimistic for now. It would be a great boon for business interests in the DMV, not to mention a huge improvement in mass transit options for the population of the region.

So, read the article. Think about it. Discuss it with other business owners. And we’ll just see how this plays out.


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