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Audit urged for Union Station managers

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Two members of Congress have asked the Transportation Department for "the first full federal audit" of the organization that manages Union Station, as major redevelopment at the historical site gets under way.

In a letter dated Dec. 22 to Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin L. Scovell III, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who represents the District in Congress, and Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, West Virginia Democrat, requested the audit because there is no master plan to oversee the major changes at the station.

"We thought it was about time, frankly, with 90,000 people [daily] coming through the facility … and with huge changes under way," Ms. Norton said Tuesday. "It's a gorgeous facility, and the federal government was right to put money into it. We better find out now if this corporation can support itself in the long term."

The organization that oversees Union Station's operations is the Union Station Redevelopment Corp., created in 1982.

According to the USRC website, the organization receives no federal funding, getting revenue only from the station's parking-garage fares and developer's lease.

According to 2010 financial statements, the most recent available, the organization had total revenue of $10.3 million compared with total expenses of $6 million, and net assets for the year ending Sept. 30 of $33.9 million.

A request for comment from organization President David Ball was not returned.

The organization's job, Mrs. Norton said, is to manage the many moving parts under Union Station's roof. That includes Metro, Amtrak, MARC and VRE, as well as multiple car and bus companies.

Keeping all of these parts in motion and in line "seems to me would take a great deal of advanced planning," said Mrs. Norton.

The 103-year-old train station, on Massachusetts Avenue Northwest, just north of the Capitol Building, stands to gain an expanded train concourse, new bus deck for its parking garage and a 3 million-square-foot mixed-use development to be built over the train tracks.

The station has gone through renovations before, including $160 million worth of upgrades in 1988 and months of ongoing work to repair damage from August's 5.8-magnitude earthquake.

Despite the expensive updates and steady flow of visitors and commuters through its high archways, Union Station has "no record of congressional oversight hearings until 2008," the letter stated.

"We've got to look Union Station in the eye now and find out what is really happening," said Mrs. Norton, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure economic development, public buildings and emergency management subcommittee. "I don't know enough to say there's something wrong, but what's worse than that is not knowing anything."

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