EV Charging Station Beneath the National Mall?

When we first developed the concept of the National Mall Underground, our aim was to spur enthusiasm for an innovative way to improve Mall resiliency by consolidating in one large underground facility solutions to several Mall challenges — flood mitigation, rainwater harvesting, visitor parking, and a visitors welcome center. Learn more here.

The large empty box concept inspired another suggestion from then-GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini, who asked for, and we added, a field of 1,000 geothermal rods. He saw a unique opportunity to provide clean energy to the public buildings on and around the Mall from this central location, in a city where open space for geothermal excavation was near impossible to find.

Now, the growth in the popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) suggests yet another function: EV Charging Center. The idea comes from Andrew Blair, former President and CEO of Colonial Parking and adviser to the Underground’s parking component.

As Blair points out, sales and ownership of EVs in the United States are increasing, with forecasts that 40% of passenger vehicles in the United States will be EVs by 2030. (The Biden Administration recently indicated it may give more time for manufacturers to meet strict emission standards, but that won’t alter the long-term need.)

With this increase of EVs in all major cities, comes the need for owners to charge those vehicles on a regular basis. For many, this will mean charging at home or work, though leaving open the need for charging during long trips or extended drives – including Mall visits.

Additionally, projections are even stronger for conversion of motor coaches, a main source of transportation for Mall visitors. Having easy access to electric charging could be a strong incentive to draw buses off city streets, removing a major source of congestion and air pollution.

These trends present the National Mall Underground an opportunity to meet the need, improve Mall resiliency, and promote clean energy policies. Visitors who arrive in EVs will be rewarded not only with a place to park, but also a place to charge their vehicles for the trip home.

The availability of centrally located EV charging might also prove attractive and useful for Federal and Congressional workers with EV’s and longer commutes by providing the opportunity to charge while working, especially during slower mid-week times. With this charging activity will come additional revenue to support the operations of the garage.

In the past, the National Park Service and other federal agencies who defer to NPS have opposed the National Mall Underground because they don’t want to see more parking, no matter the other benefits. Some say the project is too big, far outside their own jurisdiction in scope and cost. Some are content to solve their own flooding and energy needs without having to think about the larger needs of the Mall.

That is precisely why we believe the concept of the National Mall Underground – including parking for EVs – merits a fair public hearing to consider its viability and public benefits. The Underground can address multiple challenges, at the cost of one construction project. And who knows, besides EV charging what other useful, creative purposes could the Underground be put to? Not just for Mall stakeholders, but for DC residents, federal and DC government staff, and, not least, the American public.

• Judy Scott Feldman is chair of the National Mall Coalition.


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