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Watchdog: Accountability

Board created to oversee D.C.'s Union Station isn't working, watchdog finds

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A nonprofit board created to oversee and manage D.C.'s historic Union Station is not doing its job, a new watchdog report has found.

The Union Station Redevelopment Corp., created by the federal Transportation Department in 1983, is in charge of managing and overseeing the "tourist attraction, retail destination, and transportation hub," according to the report.

The station, which opened in 1908 as a railroad terminal, today is a stop for Amtrak as well as for commuter rail services, D.C's Metro rail service and various bus lines. The federal DOT owns the station and leases it to USRC, which is heading up a major renovation project.

However, the agency "has not adequately planned for Union Station's future," DOT's inspector general found.

The station's reserve fund for maintenance is at "risk of depletion and faces a potential shortfall of more than $5 million" by September. However, the size of the shortfall can't be predicted because the condition of "various building components is unknown," the report said.

Furthermore, USRC has not updated its master plan for the station since 2010, specifically failing to identify funding sources for "key projects or plans of other stakeholders, such as Amtrak," the IG found.

"USRC cannot effectively coordinate with stakeholders or make meaningful progress in improving the station's utility as a transportation hub," the report said.

A study to project the "remaining useful life" of critical parts of the station -- including mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems -- and how much maintenance on them would cost over time has not been done either, the IG found.

Until the USRC does the study, it "will be challenged to identify, prioritize, and plan for costs related to improvements, repairs, and maintenance" for Union Station, the report said.

The IG also found that "limited revenues coupled with debt and escalating and unforeseen costs" are creating huge financial challenges for USRC.

USRC's creation gave it authority for "managing, developing, restoring, and overseeing Union Station -- as well as protecting the Federal Government's interest," the report revealed.

Thus, until the Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration take action, "Union Station remains at risk of falling into a state of disrepair that in the past led to the Station's closure and the need for costly renovation," the IG said.

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Kelly Cohen

Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner