Dear Mr. Sarles:
In its meeting of 20 June, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed concept designs from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) for modifications to improve flood protection for twelve Metrorail system vent shafts in the Federal Triangle and at several locations on the National Mall. Expressing concern about the intrusive impact of the proposed changes to the vent shafts, the Commission did not take an action and requested a new concept submission that includes additional options.
The Commission members acknowledged the difficulty in solving the vent shaft flooding problem, suggesting that a more comprehensive and systemic solution for the urban watershed be pursued, likely requiring a multi–agency effort. They noted that the cumulative effects of stormwater runoff, consolidated wastewater systems, and the design of streets, curbs, and public space contribute to the phenomenon of internal flooding and require a greater solution than can reasonably be addressed by WMATA alone. Until a coordinated and comprehensive solution is developed, they expressed a strong preference for the deployment of simple solutions, such as the existing sandbags or other temporary mechanisms, to protect the vents.
As the Commission members found that this proposal only addresses the symptoms of a much larger issue, they were not willing to endorse the conceptual approach of installing obtrusive masonry structures in the public realm to protect the individual vent shafts. Elevating the vent shafts adjacent to roadways and within sidewalks as proposed—with 12– to 40–inch–tall surrounding stone–clad walls—would create unacceptably large obstructions in these public spaces. For the vent shafts located on the National Mall, the Commission members noted the National Park Service's ongoing project to rehabilitate the central lawn panels, suggesting that the best approach would be to coordinate with that effort to control and reuse water runoff on the Mall. They emphasized the need for the National Park Service to develop a comprehensive design for treating the walkways on the National Mall that can accommodate, both functionally and aesthetically, the necessary areas of pavement—whether for vehicular access, pedestrian safety, or vent shaft protection—while maintaining the characteristic use of gravel for the paths.
The Commission looks forward to the review of additional options for the flood protection project. As always, the staff is available to assist you and the design team with the next submission.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
General Manager and Chief Executive Officer
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
600 Fifth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
cc: Peter May, National Park Service