Arlington officials worry that their plans to build a second entrance to Ballston Metro station could stall and be delayed indefinitely if the county and WMATA can’t make progress soon.
To get a move on and finally construct a western entrance for the highly trafficked station, county leaders say they need millions more in funding, and they’ve had trouble tracking down that money.
Arlington asked for $72 million from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to help pay for design work and construction, but the regional group passed over the project entirely in its new six-year funding plan. Without that cash, County Board Chair Katie Cristol worries that the roughly $25 million Arlington’s already received in state transportation funding for the project could go up in smoke, throwing its future in jeopardy.
“We have not spent down… very much of the design funds that have already been awarded,” Cristol told ARLnow. “I don’t think it’s imminent that they’re about to be clawed back if we don’t make progress. But I think they could be, especially in a time where resources are constrained everywhere.”
Cristol, Arlington’s representative to the NVTA, says the group ultimately chose not to award more money for the Ballston project because its leaders just didn’t see enough forward momentum on design work for the effort.
“We’re a little stuck, and we do need to show progress,” Cristol said.
It doesn’t help matters, as Cristol pointed out, that the group will lose roughly $80 million a year as a consequence of the deal to provide dedicated annual funding to the Metro system, and has had to scale back how many projects it will fund around the region.
Even still, the NVTA was able to send the county $5 million to pay for additional design work on a second entrance for the Crystal City Metro station, falling far short of the county’s $87 million request but still helping push the project forward.
What set the Ballston project apart from Crystal City, Cristol notes, is the work the county still needs to do with Metro to draw up what the construction will actually entail. Broadly, officials know they’d like to build another entrance near the intersection of N. Fairfax Drive and N. Vermont Street to improve access to the spate of new developments on N. Glebe Road.
Beyond that, however, Cristol says the county and Metro need to work out the details. As WMATA grapples with the existential issue of how to bump up service levels and lure riders back to the system, Cristol worries Ballston could get lost in the shuffle.
“It’s not opposition to the project,” Cristol said. “I don’t even think it’s a sense that the project is too complicated, it’s just a bandwidth problem.”
WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld warned County Board members at a Tuesday (June 26) work session that the Ballston project is not without its challenges.
He expects that construction at such a busy station would have “huge impacts on service,” noting that Metro would likely need to build a “temporary platform” while work proceeded. Wiedefeld reiterated his commitment to the project, but he also told the Board that he’d like to see a lot more preliminary work done with such consequences for Orange and Silver line riders at stake.
“We need to make a commitment together that we’re going to spend dollars on it, look at this in detail and make some hard decisions on what will come out of that,” Wiedefeld said. “I’m not comfortable with any of the costs that been bantered around, to be frank, without that level of engineering.”
That sort of tone struck Cristol as good news, even as she urged Metro to address the project sooner rather than later. Fundamentally, she believes additional access to the Ballston station will help WMATA meet its goals of boosting ridership once more, so it should become a natural priority for Wiedefeld and company.
“I do believe this is a project that is good for Metro,” Cristol said. “It would help them get new riders, when they need them the most.”