City prepares for bus changes, Metrorail repair surge

City prepares for bus changes, Metrorail repair surge
Duke St. In Motion: a city divided (File photo)

By Chris Teale (File photo)

City leaders are preparing for two major events in public transportation, as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority prepares its SafeTrack program while the Alexandria Transit Company’s DASH bus system prepares to realign some of its routes in the city.

WMATA’s plan looks to condense three years of rebuilding work into one year as officials look to get the rail network up to a good standard of repair after decades of deferred maintenance. Its effects will be felt region-wide and will affect all lines of the system, including the Yellow and Blue lines that run through Alexandria.

At city council’s legislative meeting May 10, transportation director Yon Lambert said there will be 68 days during that year when the lines and stations that directly serve the city are impacted. There are four Metro stations in the city limits: Eisenhower Avenue, Van Dorn Street, King Street and Braddock Road.

The SafeTrack program is the culmination of more than a year of investigations and recriminations by local, state and federal officials following an electronic arcing event filled the tunnel and a disabled train outside of L’Enfant Plaza with smoke, leading to the death
of Alexandria resident Carol Glover. Glover’s family has sued WMATA for $50 million in connection with the incident.

Fifteen so-called “safety surges” are planned across the system under SafeTrack, of which four will directly impact riders on the Yellow and Blue lines. The first surge is scheduled to take place from June 4 to June 19 between the Franconia-Springfield and Van Dorn stations, with continuous single-tracking slated between the two.

The lines between the Braddock Road and National Airport stops will be completely shut down from July 5 to July 12, then on July 12 there will be a total shutdown between National Airport and Pentagon City in Arlington.

Finally, continuous single-tracking is planned from Braddock Road to Huntington and Van Dorn from January 2 to January 26, 2017. There also will be total shutdowns and continuous single-tracking at various other stations throughout the system and in every jurisdiction.

“This is akin to preparing for a major snowstorm,” said City Manager Mark Jinks at the council meeting. “You know it’s coming. You do not know, with a snowstorm and with this, what the real impacts are going to be, what people’s behavior is going to be.”

City Councilor Paul Smedberg, an alternate director for Virginia on the WMATA board, said the main focus of the effort will be to ensure safety for all users.

“A lot of this is about getting the system in a good state of repair so we can implement a regular pattern of maintenance that quite honestly should have been happening over the last decade or so,” he said.

The SafeTrack plan is still in draft form, and is expected to be finalized by WMATA in the
near future.

One day after council’s legislative meeting where SafeTrack was discussed, the board of directors for the Alexandria Transit Company met to discuss and hear public comment on another change set to impact public transit users in the city: realigned DASH bus routes.

The proposed service changes for fiscal 2017 include improving the AT1’s peak period frequency to every 15 minutes, as well as shifting the routes of the AT7 in the southwest of the city as well as the AT4, AT5 and AT8 routes through North Old Town. Under the plan, the AT9’s route on Saturdays would be extended from the Bradlee Shopping Center to Mark Center via Park Center, Northern Virginia Community College’s campus in Alexandria and Southern Towers.

Under the plan, the refined AT8 route would run along King Street in Old Town, with the AT5 shifted to Duke Street. The AT2 that connects the Braddock Road Metro station with Lincolnia via Old Town would be unchanged.

The AT1 improvements will cost $319,000 and be funded through the city’s transportation improvement program. The others are cost-neutral as routes are modified rather than directly expanded.

As part of the AT7 realignment, its route will shift and run in both directions along Duke Street between Daingerfield Road and South Royal Street. In public testimony at the ATC’s May 11 meeting, local resident Denise Roboth raised concerns about traffic congestion on that thoroughfare, especially at peak times. DASH general manager Sandy Modell said that concern would be taken into account in the planning process.

“It may be that Duke Street is not the answer, and we go back to King Street like it used to operate on or another solution,” she said.

Board member David Kaplan asked if it would be possible to end the AT9 at the Crystal City Metro station, something Modell said had received some support from Arlington County officials but nothing concrete. The plan enhances the connection between the West End and
Potomac Yard, and Kaplan said it would be even better to have it terminate at a Metro station.

Data released by ATC estimated that tens of thousands of new riders would be added thanks to the route realignments, while the AT1 expansion would look to alleviate congestion between the Beauregard corridor and Landmark Mall, two areas of the city set for redevelopment and an influx of new vehicle traffic.

The board is slated to vote on the route realignments in June.