Washington Metro Mulls Selling Its Headquarters

"The choices facing Metro about its headquarters building are clear: Either expend millions to retrofit the existing building to bring it up to modern fire and life safety standards or sell the building at the top of its potential value range and use those proceeds to fund a relocation," explained GM/CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld.

As the Washington, D.C., area transit agency, known as Metro, continues the "surge" of fast-tracked maintenance work on several lines, the authority also is considering the sale of its headquarters building in the district. Metro GM/CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld announced Aug. 2 that a valuation of the Jackson Graham Building show it is worth $56 million to $132 million, depending on what density a rezoning of the 48,041-square-foot property would accommodate.

Done by commercial real estate advisory firm Jones Lang LaSalle, the report examines ways to maximize the property's value, ranging from renovating the existing structure to demolition and redevelopment. But there are hurdles for doing either: "Adjacent to the Verizon Center and proximate to two Metrorail stations, the sale of the 600 Fifth Street, NW site is prime for a top-of-the-market commercial or residential development. However, current zoning has Metro as the only permitted use of the site," Metro's news release stated. "If Metro were to stay in the building, it would need to expend an estimated $75 million to $90 million to replace almost every major building system (plumbing, heating and air conditioning, electrical, fire/life safety), all of which are at the end of their useful life."

"The choices facing Metro about its headquarters building are clear: Either expend millions to retrofit the existing building to bring it up to modern fire and life safety standards or sell the building at the top of its potential value range and use those proceeds to fund a relocation," explained Wiedefeld.

The authority will seek a rezoning to allow for a high-density commercial redevelopment before deciding whether or not to move forward with a sale.

Metro began the first SafeTrack project affecting its Red Line, which is Surge #6, Aug. 1 and provided a preliminary report on a derailment last week. The agency's safety department has made a preliminary assessment that the causal factor in the derailment was a track condition: The two rails on which trains run were too wide as a result of deteriorated rail ties. Other possible contributing causal factors, including car equipment, weather, temperature, and other factors, remain under review, and so far there is no evidence of train operator error.

Wiedefeld ordered a special supervisory inspection of all tracks in response to the incident.

The National Transportation Safety Board spelled out in more detail Aug. 3 the measures WMATA is taking in the wake of the derailment, however. NTSB reported it had briefed staffers of members of Congress from the region, as well as committee staff with oversight for transportation safety, on its findings from a limited investigation of the July 29, 2016, derailment. NTSB had sent two investigators to the scene.

There were three reported minor injuries. NTSB reported its investigators "noted a 59 inch gage (the distance between the rails of the track) in the location of the derailment. WMATA standards require that track gage greater than 57-1/4 inches be removed from service. Investigators noted a severe defective tie condition in the accident area. WMATA standards call for 12 non-defective crossties in this area. Further WMATA standards require no more than 10 feet between non-defective ties. In the subject location investigators found more than 30 feet of track with no effective crossties."

NTSB said in response to these findings and WMATA's own investigation, the transit authority told NTSB it is taking these actions:

  • Conduct a Stand Down Wednesday to clarify the expectations for remedial actions following track inspections.
  • WMATA supervisors will accompany track inspectors during crossover inspections in advance of safe tracks.
  • Crossovers will now be included in main line track automated inspections.
  • Crossovers will now be inspected twice weekly as required by WMATA standards.

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