The Potomac Yard Concerned Residents group appreciates the apology written by City Manager Mark Jinks to the entire City of Alexandria on June 21, 2018 (see below) indicating that the public should have been included in the descoping process from the outset, however, more than an apology we would appreciate hearing concrete steps about how the City will restore Southern access in the PY Metro Project. This is the most important remedy to this epic failure and mismanagement from the City of Alexandria.
Further, it’s important to remind everyone that the City made public the RFP and Amendments for the Potomac Yard Metro Project. While this is much appreciated, a substantial amount of documents remain confidential despite the FOIA submitted by our community and the insufficient response submitted by the Office of the City Attorney. We honestly believe delegating a decision to WMATA on the confidentiality of documents is not aligned with the spirit of that act. In addition, we have not heard back from you on concerns regarding WMATA’s compliance with its own procurement policies. Given that the awarding of the contract is imminent, we truly hope you will address them as soon as possible.
On that note, we were able to review the RFPs and Amendments. Through that documentation, a few things are quite clear:
- The July 2017 request is not a list of options as City Council seems to have suggested, it is a directive to remove specific elements from the proposal – all of which were ultimately removed.
- When the city felt a public push-back on the released one-mezzanine design in April, City Staff told vendors to expect an amendment. That communication, combined with the fact that the south access bridge was not included in July 2017 as it could have been, suggests that this addition was directly in response to public outcry. City Staff seemed not to consider relevant to look for alternatives to restore meaningful access to the south of the station as part of the process that was held under confidentiality.
- The proposed south access bridge finally gets added as an optional element to price on May 3, 2018 – the day before the Jinks memo is released. Therefore, the proposed south access bridge shared with PYMIG was not part of a planned response to a descoping problem. It is a reaction, only possible due to public engagement.
- At this point, however, we expect that City Staff should have detail on the south access bridge addition, including costs. Therefore, the City of Alexandria through WMATA is in a position to award the contract with that amendment from Day 1.
Finally, it should be noted that the City still owes us two more sets of documents. One is the 600+ pages withheld from our original FOIA because they supposedly pertain to a “confidential procurement process” but the Virginia FOIA law will compel them to release that information once the design build contract is awarded (any minute now…). Secondly, we are awaiting a follow up request we made on specific items related to the first FOIA, such as when the City Council knew about the changes, what other cost savings options were considered back in July, what economic analysis was done and when did the bridge back to Glebe first get discussed.
We truly hope that City Staff will make all efforts to make sure that is the case. It is the minimum that the residents of Potomac Yard expect to partially address a situation that will need to be reviewed and properly explained in the future.
To the Alexandria Community:
Since the 1970s, the City has worked closely with residents and businesses towards the vision of a new Potomac Yard Metro Station. After decades of hard work, we are closer than ever to the significant transit, environmental and economic benefits the station will provide.
While there has been extensive communication, consultation and engagement among stakeholders throughout this long and complex process, this was not the case for the procurement phase of the project last year and this year. On behalf of your City government, I apologize that we did not live up to the standards we set and our community expects.
To maintain the integrity of the competitive procurement process, we were required to curtail some of our communication with the public while Metro reviewed confidential bids from prospective construction contractors. City staff were permitted to participate in the process only if they adhered to Metro’s strict confidentiality rules.
The station was originally designed to have two entrances on the west side of the tracks (one on the north end of the platform and one on the south end), and another entrance on the east side of the tracks. When initial bids far exceeded the project’s budget, the only practical way to keep the $320 million station financially viable was to remove the south entrance along Potomac Avenue. The north entrance will be accessible about a block away.
We believed we were prohibited from informing the public of cost-saving design changes. It now appears there was a critical misunderstanding about what could be released. In hindsight, City staff and I should have pressed harder to clarify the basis for keeping the design changes confidential. This would have allowed us to have a more informed conversation about communicating changes to the public.
Many members of our community are understandably upset. We typically provide better communication, and the community rightfully expected better. We would have preferred to communicate the design changes much earlier and more directly than we did, and we commit to more thoroughly reviewing how confidentiality applies or does not apply to future situations and projects.
The Potomac Yard Metro Station will dramatically improve transit options, help the environment by taking cars off the road, spur economic growth through new homes and jobs, and provide increased tax revenue to meet vital community needs. We are committed to providing timely and accurate information about this project and look forward to a new station that will make our entire community proud.
Mark Jinks, City Manager