NPS vs. WMATA

NPS vs. WMATA

By Elliot Carter

The National Park Service has jurisdiction over Washington's many parks, plazas and traffic circles. They got into a nasty bureaucratic turf war with WMATA in the 1970's as Metro was being built

WMATA spent months in talks with NPS and wasn't able to reach an accord about building in parkland. The WMATA chairman and Secretary of the Interior ended up personally negotiating the details of individual stations. NPS had all the leverage in the negotiations, and they often forced WMATA to not only clean up construction sites, but actually pay for new park improvements. For example, Metro paid for a new horse stable in Rock Creek Park in exchange for the installation of five manhole covers.

Rock Creek Park

WMATA wanted to punch holes through the base of Taft Bridge to connect Woodley Park and Dupont Circle. (Fun fact, Taft Bridge is the largest unreinforced concrete structure in the world). The proposal would have made for an incredibly cool looking bridge, and amazing views of Rock Creek Park from inside the train. NPS killed the idea, and WMATA architects went back to the drawing board.

Harry Weiss' bridge idea. weiss & Associates drawing

Harry Weiss' bridge idea. weiss & Associates drawing

The next proposal actually went further, and had an entire Metro station built into the bridge. Tracks would flank the bridge and a central platform. Passengers would have entered via stairs on either side of the bridge. NPS unsurprisingly vetoed this proposal as well, forcing a Metro tunnel deep under the park and creating painfully long escalators at Woodley and Dupont. (This tunnel necessitated the five manholes and horse stable reparation mentioned above.) Ghosts of DC has a great article with additional details about the bridge here.

Farragut Square

It seems unusual that Farragut Square has separate subway stations at its north and southwestern corners. It wasn't supposed to be that way. WMATA wanted to build one transfer station under the park that would have eased overcrowding at Metro Center. 

However, excavation of the large station would required the temporary relocation of the park's trees and Admiral David Farragut statue. That was too high a price for the Park Service to bear and they nixed the idea.

The Farragut issue has not been resolved. WMATA has been trying since 2004 to build a pedestrian tunnel under the square; that still has not happened.

Smithsonian

Negotiations about the Smithsonian station entrances were a particular fiasco. WMATA architects logically wanted to place the station entrance at the center of the Capitol - Washington Monument axis. This would have provided a nice view coming out of the station, and would have been easier for tourists to locate. The Park Service was horrified and told them to "get back under the trees" on the edge of the Mall. WMATA bitterly complained that NPS had "decided that people are a nuisance on the Mall." 

Then they got into a squabble over who would pay for the entrances. WMATA argued that their duty was to provide an entrance for Department of Agriculture employees at Independence Avenue and 12th Street. In a foolish bluff, they said that if NPS wanted a second tourist entrance to the north, then they would have to pay for it. The Park Service responded with the nuclear option and threatened to entirely withdraw permits for the station.

The constant bickering between NPS and WMATA is frustrating, and the public clearly got the short end of the stick. However, The Park Service's actions appear a little more sympathetically when you consider the broader context. They were at war all throughout the 1960's and 70's with highway boosters who wanted to pave over miles of their parkland. Parks tended to loose out in those battles, and Metro looked like just another transportation attack.

Temperance Fountain

Temperance Fountain

How Was It Built - Metro

How Was It Built - Metro