What Amazon’s expansion means for the Southeast

Access to public transportation was a key consideration for Amazon as it decided to  locate a new East Coast headquarters in Virginia’s Crystal City area.  (© WAMU)

The intense competition to land Amazon’s second headquarters ended when the company announced on November 13th that it would split its planned office, bringing 25,000 new jobs to Arlington County, Virginia and 25,000 jobs to New York City. Amazon also announced it will bring 5,000 new jobs to Nashville as part of a new operations hub. The blockbuster announcements reportedly are the largest economic development projects in the history of Virginia and of Tennessee, and these projects will have significant transportation and land use impacts and major implications for the Southeast.

Amazon’s massive new Virginia headquarters will be located in Crystal City, an already-developed area of Arlington County in Northern Virginia that is just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. The deal apparently includes state and local investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in transportation infrastructure, such as expanded capacity on the Metro rail transit system, enhanced bus rapid transit, and a pedestrian bridge connecting the headquarters with National Airport. This focus on transportation access is in line with recent trends showing more workers want options other than a car for their daily commute.

The new hub in Nashville will be located in a mixed-use project already under construction downtown. Although Amazon’s announcement highlighted the site’s proximity to commuter rail and transit service, the area does not have much transit service and there apparently is no explicit transportation component to the agreement.

Amazon’s expansion offers both challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, these deals will put enormous pressure on transportation systems and housing in two fast-growing parts of the Southeast,” said Senior Attorney Trip Pollard, who leads our Land and Community Program. “On the other hand, Amazon is to be commended for choosing sites that have already been developed and are revitalizing, rather than spurring sprawl by siting these massive new offices in greenfield areas.  “Moreover, for the most part, Amazon followed through on its commitment to areas with robust transit service, underscoring the importance of transit in corporate location decisions,” Pollard said. “And the deal with Virginia calls for major investments in a number of important projects. In Nashville, there are fewer current or planned transit services at the site Amazon has chosen, and this needs to be addressed going forward to reduce the environmental and congestion impacts of the development.”

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