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Potomac Yard Metro Changes Scrutinized In FOIA Email Release

Posted on Jun 08,2018
Filed Under News , Community,
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Image via City of Alexandria

By Emily Leayman

ALEXANDRIA, VA. — Emails released by a FOIA request revealed city officials had an image of the Potomac Yard Metro design with the changes removed in April, nearly a month before the public found out.

The Concerned Residents of Potomac Yard filed a FOIA request and has published hundreds of pages of emails and documents relating to the Potomac Yard Metro project. The changes have sparked outrage among businesses and residents in Potomac Yard that were banking on being near the south entrance. Meanwhile, city officials have defended the changes they knew about since last summer but the public did not know until May due to a confidentiality agreement.

Of note in the email release shows the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority published an image of a one-entrance Potomac Yard station design on April 9, which was picked up by Washington Business Journal and noticed by the public. City officials contacted WMATA to express concern, due to the confidentiality agreement and the revised design becoming public for the first time.

WMATA officials say Alexandria officials had never been stopped from talking about the south entrance publicly, but Jinks said that was contrary to what they've been told. "A single WMATA engineering official indicated in response that the removal of the entrance was not required to be kept confidential," City Manager Mark Jinks wrote in a letter responding to the Concerned Residents of Potomac Yard's email release. "This was counter to what City staff had been told by WMATA earlier in 2017, and did not represent an official determination by a large regional agency."

Jinks says in his letter the announcement noted that "design changes and other savings opportunities would be necessary to lower the cost of the station, but did not describe specific changes in order to maintain confidentiality."

WMATA agreed to city staff's request to remove the image until further discussions happened in person. City officials and project staff met with WMATA officials on May 1 and came to an agreement on information to become public. The changes to the project, including the elimination of the south entrance, became public on May 4 when Jinks sent a memo to City Council and the Potomac Yard Metrorail Implementation Work Group.

On April 4— a few days before WMATA had released the image—the city had announced the project budget had increased from $268.1 million to $320 million based on rising construction costs. City Council approved the revised budget on April 10.

"I continue to believe that all City staff acted reasonably and in good faith to pursue this vital project for the community," write Jinks. "As soon as we became aware that WMATA had published information we believed should not have been published, we engaged in extensive dialogue to clarify the issue and publish what we could as soon as feasible."

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