Potomac Yard-VT Metro station opens in Alexandria
Will serve new Va. Tech Innovation Campus, boost region
In its heyday during World War II, Potomac Yard handled freight for six different railroads and employed 1,500 workers to keep trains moving, until it succumbed to economic pressures.
On Friday, after decades of planning, the transformed former rail switching yard opened as Metro’s 98th station, serving the Yellow and Blue lines between the Braddock Road and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport stops in Alexandria.
“Wherever Metro goes, community grows,” Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority General Manager and CEO Randy Clarke said before a crowd of hundreds who gathered at the $370 million station — named for Potomac Yard and Virginia Tech — to mark the occasion. The ceremony concluded a four-year period of construction.
The Potomac Yard-VT station is viewed by the region’s leaders as an economic engine expected to help drive billions of dollars in investment in Alexandria. The station, just two stops away from Amazon.com Inc.’s new HQ2, is arriving where strip retail shopping centers and residential homes have infilled as officials lobbied to build the station, which has been included in planning documents for the neighborhood since the 1970s. Anchored by Virginia Tech’s $1 billion Innovation Campus, which is expected to open in 2024, WMATA forecasts that the station will bring in 26,000 more jobs and 13,000 more Metro riders.
“This has been a one of the most, if not the most anticipated economic development project, for the city in decades,” Stephanie Landrum, president and CEO of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, told Virginia Business.
While many elected leaders on hand Friday touted the benefits of Metro for boosting future economic development, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner also used it to rally behind the potential for a new FBI headquarters to move to Northern Virginia. The U.S. General Services Administration is eyeing federally-owned land in Springfield as one potential home for the agency as it seeks to relocate from its current location in Washington, D.C., and Virginia leaders have sparred with Maryland officials over which state is better suited for the building. Two sites in Prince George’s County, Maryland, are also in consideration.
Warner anticipated that at least some of those 13,000 new Alexandria residents “are going to be FBI agents” going to work in Springfield.
“Climb on this station, get to Springfield in about 11 minutes, at most,” Warner said, noting the area’s proximity to “all of the rest of the intelligence community … all across Northern Virginia. It’s going to be a great day.”
A ‘gravy train’ in Alexandria
Among the morning’s many train-related jokes, U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat whose district includes the neighborhood, referred to the new station as a “gravy train” for the region, while noting that he would have preferred that it were named “Hokie Nation Station,” a reference to the Virginia Tech campus, which will be the university’s hub for computer science and engineering graduate studies. During construction of the first academic building, students are already attending classes in temporary space in a shopping center.
The combination of Amazon and Virginia Tech’s presences have contributed to more economic development. The Boeing Co. announced in May 2022 that it was moving its headquarters from Chicago to nearby Arlington County, after the company in 2021 gave $50 million to the university to support diversity at the Innovation Campus. Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun is a Tech alumnus.
Virginia Tech President Tim Sands, accompanied by the Hokie bird mascot on stage, said Friday there are about 60,000 Hokies “within a few Metro stops of this site.”
“We have about 1,500 students, faculty and staff that will be here in full buildout over the next several years,” Sands said. “We’ll have research programs up and running; they already have been started, [and] they will connect the technology worlds in this region.”
According to the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, about 555,000 square feet of commercial space has now been completed near the new station.
In addition to the Innovation Campus, the Institute for Defense Analyses’ 370,000-square-foot headquarters opened in Potomac Yard in January 2022, and the 100,000-square-foot headquarters and training center for the National Industries for the Blind opened in March 2019.
In April 2017, the American Physical Therapy Association’s board voted to purchase land for its new headquarters directly across from the new station after it determined that its previous location, about a mile away on the Potomac River waterfront, needed significant renovations and would be better suited for residential use. The association was attracted to the redevelopment underway at Potomac Yard and in 2020, opened its $70 million, 85,000-square-foot headquarters. APTA CEO Justin Moore told Virginia Business on Friday that five of the association’s workers used the new Metro station that morning.
The association hired about 30 new employees last year, Moore said, and has about 19 current openings. He credits being in a “dynamic neighborhood” with helping the organization’s recruitment efforts, and being close to public transportation fits the organization’s mission of improving health.
“In our old buildings, it was 99% single-car drivers,” Moore said, but with improved Metro access, “we’re already in the 80s.”
The opening of the station, originally set for April 2022, was delayed twice and follows Metro’s $3 billion Silver Line extension, which added six stations toward Dulles International Airport and stretched service to Loudoun County in November 2022. Clarke said 1.5 million passengers have now traveled on the new Silver Line.