Last week, Amtrak announced a call for contractors to bid on a proposal to modernize and expand the railroad’s main concourse at Union Station in Washington, D.C. Union Station is Amtrak’s headquarters and the second busiest train station in the country, yet its cramped and narrow concourse has been in desperate need of a face-lift since it was built in the 1980s. While the station has retail and food options, it is plagued with long lines and overcrowding, and lacks bathrooms. Union Station, which is swamped by nearly five million passengers each year, is known for its infamous train boarding process, where riders are forced to wait on the concourse instead of the platform of their specific train. The disorganized space often creates winding lines and very confused passengers. Amtrak's project aims to double the capacity of the 70,000-square-foot space by creating a more open, flexible, and spacious interior layout. The scheme will undoubtedly modernize the space which will no longer be confined by restrictive walls, doors, and hallways. Passengers will be able to flow freely throughout the open concourse, which should alleviate congestion and minimize the stress associated with boarding and queuing. The plans also involve a generous amount of glass and natural light, which will both brighten the space as well as improve overall aesthetics and comfort. The addition of more bathrooms and a luxury, 10,000-square-foot lounge will further provide visitors with a more positive, streamlined experience. This isn’t the first time Amtrak has sought to revamp Union Station. In 2012, the railroad service unveiled a multi-billion-dollar proposal to remodel the concourse. Without proper funding, the plans were scrapped. Construction of Amtrak’s most recent vision is anticipated to begin this fall, and completion is slated for 2022. While the news may be exciting for frequent passengers of Union Station, it still will not fix Amtrak’s inconvenient boarding process.
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Call it High Line fever: since the first leg of James Corner and Diller Scofidio + Renfro's High Line debuted in 2009, High Line–like projects have popped up all over the city and across the country. Now, not ten miles from the original, the Bronx may be slated for its very own rail-to-park conversion. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. has asked Mayor Bill de Blasio to transform an unused slice of below grade train track in Mott Haven into a "lowline." The block-long site, bounded by Brook Avenue, East 156th Street, St. Ann's Avenue, and East 150th Street, is owned by CSX. In order to reclaim the space for parkland, the city would need to buy or seize the land from the railroad company. On a visit to the site in September, Mayor de Blasio deplored the condition of the trash strewn corridor, which doubles as a homeless encampment. Soon after the mayor's visit, city workers cleared out the belongings of the residents and removed debris from the site. Sandwiched between schools and their athletic fields, the lowline would be adjacent to mixed income housing projects Melrose Commons and Via Verde.
A new report attempts to quantify the cost of our national reluctance to fix aging bridges, railroads and power lines. Delays in approving infrastructure projects cost the United States some $3.7 trillion, according to the nonpartisan think tank Common Good—more than twice what it would take to fix the infrastructure in the first place, according to a report titled Two Years, Not Ten Years: Redesigning Infrastructure Approvals. That staggering price tag includes the costs of prolonged inefficiencies and unnecessary pollution that continues while local, state, and federal agencies forestall fixes to infrastructure that the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates is due for $1.7 trillion in repairs and maintenance through 2020. The New York–based think tank based their numbers on a six-year delay, which they reasoned was accurate according to available data about how long projects typically take to get shovel-ready:
Although large projects often take a decade or longer to permit, we assume that the avoidable delay on major projects is six years. There is ample anecdotal evidence of actual years of delay in the US for different types of infrastructure projects, but little cumulative data. The Federal Highway Administration estimated that the average time for approval of major highway projects was over six years. Five to ten years is a common timeframe for interstate transmission lines, and for wind farms and solar fields on federal lands on either coast.Infrastructure maintenance and repair is, of course, a thoroughly unsexy topic. But, as the Wall Street Journal writes in an editorial about Common Good's report, it's important—and perhaps politically viable even in a presidential election cycle:
Common Good suggests building a process that shuttles projects through in a prompt two years. Environmental reviews should be handled by one designated official and kept to 300 pages; litigation should be restricted to the first 90 days after the permit is issued; the White House should be granted authority to appoint an agency as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for interstate projects. Congress could address the permitting morass this fall as part of the transportation bill, and the presidential candidates could include the issue and a horror story or two in their agendas for faster economic growth. It’s hard to imagine a more sensible and politically achievable idea—and one better suited to restoring public confidence that government can carry out its basic duties.
There are few buildings as emblematic of the urban blight in Detroit as Michigan Central Station. That changed slightly this week, when new windows appeared in some of the historic building's vacant frames. FOX 2 reporter Jason Carr spotted the new fenestration earlier this week. Michigan Central Station's neoclassical entryway and mighty Beaux-Arts towers once welcomed rail passengers to Detroit like royalty, but the building has been empty since 1988. Manuel "Matty" Moroun owns the building through his company NBIT. Last year the company got permits for $676,000 of rehabilitation work, from installing new elevators to repairing the roof. Mlive reported that NBIT had invested more than $4 million on "security, preparation and interior improvements" on the building to date. A few new windows may be little solace for those hoping to mount a full restoration, which could cost $300 million. But as FOX 2 observed, some are happy anythings being done at all:
"I love it," said another passerby. "I want good things to happen here."
Kansas City's main rail station will get a $7.5 million expansion and streetscape improvement, local officials announced this week, including a new bridge designed to improve circulation between the terminal's “front and back yards.” Union Station was built in 1901, but its last major renovation was in 1997, when a major renovation closed the Beaux Arts building—which is on the National Register of Historic Places—for two years. Now KC-based Burns & McDonnell, picked by the Union Station board after a “rigorous” review process, will guide the redesign, renovation, and reconstruction of the local landmark's outside areas. A $2.25 million tax credit from the Missouri Development Finance Board kicked off fundraising for the project, which topped off only after a recent gift from the Bloch Family Foundation. The Hall Family Foundation covered more than half of the total project cost with a gift of more than $4 million. The new landscape features include a bridge for cars and pedestrians connecting Union Station's various outdoor spaces to its parking garage. New spaces include an outdoor events plaza to the west of the adjoining Science City for interactive exhibits and community-based events. Officials hope to complete the project by 2017.