Viewpoint: Michael Friedberg; Congress should step up with funds to renovate Union Station

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A subway train arrives at the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metrorail station. (Brian Kapur/The Current/July 2017)

President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan provides a much-needed roadmap for ensuring the nation’s transportation systems are prepared to help the economy grow and meet the demands of the 21st century.

Now, the president and Congress must come together to help fund regional projects in the nation’s capital and throughout the Northeast Corridor that are critical for strengthening America’s economy and making our country more competitive.

Washington, D.C. is one of the most important cities along the Northeast Corridor rail system, and ensuring the city is efficiently and reliably connected to the Northeast’s major economic hubs is important for the nation’s economy. In fact, losing rail service in D.C. and throughout the corridor for just a single day would strand more than 820,000 commuters and cost the economy $100 million.

But as commuters and businesses along the corridor know, the region’s infrastructure system is struggling with increasing rail incidents and delays leading to headaches for workers and a loss of productivity for employers. Without a renewed focus on funding major projects along the corridor, the system will struggle to meet the demands of businesses and workers while jeopardizing the nation’s ability to compete in a 21st century economy.

Washington’s Union Station is a symbol of the dire need for upgrades to the region’s rail infrastructure. Tens of thousands of people pass through Union Station each day, making it the second most-used station in the country. It has proven to be incapable of handling the influx of commuters – it was built in 1908, after all – and the station is in a state of disrepair.

There are several funded short-term fixes, including track and platform improvements and modernizations and structural repairs, in the works. These are good steps, but the real work requires ensuring Union Station can handle increased usage and demand over the coming decades.

Plans to double the station’s passenger and train capacity by expanding and modernizing facilities as well as integrating more than three million feet of development over the existing rail yard will help meet these challenges and will improve service throughout the Northeast Corridor.

But these plans currently lack the funding to move forward, which is where the federal government must step in. Enabling commuters to move safely and efficiently throughout the region will help businesses grow, boost productivity, and create new economic opportunities. And while it is encouraging to see Trump begin substantively addressing these infrastructure challenges, the administration and congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle must now take the next step to unlock the nation’s economic potential by devoting resources to Northeast Corridor projects such as Union Station’s renovation. In particular, the appropriations committee has an important role to play in 2018 to fund intercity passenger and commuter rail along the Northeast Corridor.

Trump has made infrastructure one of the signature issues of his presidency. His newly released plan is the first step forward in rebuilding the nation’s railways and improving the future outlook of the nation’s economy. The next step is ensuring that the critical rail projects in the nation’s capital and throughout the Northeast Corridor have the financial support necessary to bring America’s infrastructure into the 21st century.

Michael Friedberg is the executive director of the Coalition for the Northeast Corridor.