Amazon Won Transportation Perks for Its Crystal City HQ2

A pedestrian bridge would connect Reagan Airport with Crystal City. Photo:  Crystal City Business Improvement District
A pedestrian bridge would connect Reagan Airport with Crystal City. Photo: Crystal City Business Improvement District

It’s super cool, sure, but Virginia taxpayers are paying for it.

Amazon’s deal to create one of its two new HQ2 sites in Arlington calls for the state to spend close to $200 million on sustainable transportation improvements to make life better for 25,000 new workers. [PDF] That’s in addition to the nearly half a billion Arlington and the state had already been pouring into transportation infrastructure in this area.

The state’s promised investment is a markedly different approach than New York City and State officials used to lure the retail giant — forcing Amazon to set aside half of its estimated $30 million in property tax payments for a city-controlled “infrastructure fund.” True, transit advocates say that far more money is needed to mitigate the impact of Amazon’s Long Island City HQ2, but at least it will provide some privately funded relief for Queens commuters.

In Virginia, the Amazon deal means a new life for the most eye-catching project: a 900-foot pedestrian bridge across the George Washington Parkway and CSXT railroad tracks that will connecting the Crystal City offices to Reagan National Airport. The $30-million pedestrian bridge proposal predates the Amazon bid.

“It’s a super cool project,” said Steve Davis of Transportation for America. “It is kind of like the High Line (in New York City).”

The state has also agreed to expand capacity at the nearby Metro stations. The agreement promises Amazon an additional entrance at the Crystal City East as well as at the Potomac Yard Southwest Metro Station (a nearby new Metro infill station set to open in 2021).

Virginia set aside $28 million in deferred tax revenues for infrastructure projects but that amount won’t cover the total costs. The second entrance at the Crystal City Metro station alone is reported to cost $78 million. Metro is reportedly seeking state funding.

The deal also entitles Amazon to “mutually agreed upon improvements to Route 1,” a wide, high-speed road that runs through Crystal City. Right now the road is a nightmare for pedestrians.

Route 1 in Crystal City. Photo: Google Maps
Route 1 in Crystal City. Photo: Google Maps

Chris Slatt of Arlington County’s Transportation Commission wrote on Greater Greater Washington that the road would be converted into an “urban boulevard” at a cost of $250 million as part of the deal. That’s a nice chunk of change, but it will help make the area much more walkable and pleasant.

In addition, the agreement also calls for the expansion of the Crystal City/Potomac Yard Metroway bus rapid transit, which runs buses on partially dedicated lanes from Crystal City to the Pentagon and northern Alexandria.

Sustainable transportation advocates like Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said the proposal looks solid.

“Those all look like the investments we need,” Schwartz said.

Amazon’s expansion into the region could open the door to more ambitious projects, in the future as well, said Davis.  In addition, the region could explore linking Maryland Commuter Rail, MARC, to the area through D.C., he said, potentially with the cooperation of the state of Maryland, but that would be a complicated long-term process.

  • thielges

    Nice that this development has given an additional push for the airport pedestrian connection. I’m sure that the proponents have had to contend with opposition from people who cannot imagine an air journey that doesn’t begin with a car dropping the passenger and their steamer trunk off at departures.

  • crazytrainmatt

    Not a lot of love for amazon right now but remember that they are the only of the big tech companies whose primary HQ is urban rather than suburban. Even the others now tend to have secondary campuses in urban locations because that’s where their employees want to be.

    The wiser cities in flyover country will use their loss as wake-up call and legalize more walkable land use. And commercial developers will pay note to Amazon’s criteria as well.

  • Mentallect

    Walkability is key to sustainability.

  • Mentallect

    Red state flyover country complaining about a few “Supercities” concentrating wealth in urban areas need to fully fund education and public transportation, stop passing Bathroom Bills and stop electing racists.

  • Elizabeth F

    Flying (travelling long distances) is not sustainable. Whether you drive or walk from the airport makes little difference to your outsize carbon footprint.

  • thielges

    Sustainability is not the point I was trying to make. If your job requires flying, you’re going to fly. Having an option to reach the airport terminal quickly and without adding to congestion is a positive. And the sustainability of flying isn’t black and white. Sometimes a quick trip can save millions of dollars and that often translates into reduced resource consumption.

  • Joe R.

    True but how much flying really falls into that category? The majority of “business trips” are BS which don’t even really pay for themselves. I recall one of the bosses taking lots of trips, ostensibly for sales purposes, from customers who were going to buy from us regardless. I never noticed any difference in sales volume after the trips. Let’s face it. People like to travel on the company dime for two reasons. One, to join their drinking buddies. Two, to screw their mistresses in other places.

    Recreational air travel is obviously 100% about consumption, and none of it is strictly necessary. It’s a want, not a need.

    I’m not saying people should stop taking long trips for either business or pleasure, but we need to find a more sustainable way of doing that. Flying doesn’t work. To burn through a swimming pool of fuel so 300 people can take selfies of themselves in front of famous landmarks is a profligate, almost criminal, waste of resources. High-speed trains make more sense, along with nuclear-powered ships if you’re crossing oceans. The only potential “fast”, sustainable mode of travel might be maglevs in vacuum tubes. We might be waiting until the 22nd century for that to become practical.

  • Bernard Finucane

    True, but it makes Crystal City a nice place. Or it would if it had a moving sidewalk and a bike lane to make it more feasible to use.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Also cities need to stop building attractions like NFL stadiums and casinos and start doing cheap stuff like planting trees and eliminating parking minimums to make themselves more attractive.

  • AndreL

    Twitter and Salfesforce have urban HQs as well.

  • Bruce

    And Uber, and Airbnb, and Lyft, and Postmates, and many others.

  • Bruce

    What’s the alternative? High-speed rail is awesome but not practical for most of the US.

  • Patrick Devine

    Sure it’s practical. China has built plenty of high-speed rail in the last decade and does it for 1/3 the cost per mile of what it costs in the US. We just need to figure out how to make it cheaper (and it’s not just lower wages for workers).

  • david vartanoff

    Missing from the list, a VRE station next to Metro.

  • neroden

    For reference, those CSX train tracks also carry Amtrak and VRE trains. There should be a VRE station.

  • neroden

    HSR is practical for 100% of the US. Look at what China built.

    (1) We have to stop dealing with the “US heavy construction mafia” who are jacking up rail prices.

    (2) We have to buy the rights-of-way out from the freight railroads.

    These are the two big differences between the US and China’s rail construction.

  • neroden

    It’s quite comfy to take 24 hours to go between coasts by land on a fast train. The problem is that employers are overworking Americans, so only the self-employed and retired have long enough vacations to take that time.

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