By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
After a year of apprehension, the Metro shutdown will officially commence next week, disrupting the commutes and travel routines of thousands of Alexandria residents and visitors.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced about a year ago that all stations south of Reagan National Airport would be closed during summer 2019 from Memorial Day to Labor Day for platform maintenance. WMATA has since extended the shutdown by six days to Sept. 8, 2019.
Since the announcement, city staff have been working with WMATA, local businesses and the state to put together a mitigation plan to ease the shutdown’s impacts on residents, visitors and especially commuters.
Mitigation efforts include free WMATA shuttle buses, expanded DASH services, HOV lane modifications and other temporary traffic changes. Besides the alternatives provided by the city, other businesses including the Potomac Riverboat Company and the Virginia Railway Express have stepped up to help mitigate the lack of Metro service.
The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation has awarded the city almost $2.2 million in expenses related to the platform improvement project, according to Director of Transportation and Environmental Services Yon Lambert. The funding will go toward additional DASH buses, water taxi fare subsidies, street modifications and other mitigation measures, according to Lambert.
Free WMATA shuttle service
The primary WMATA-funded mitigation measure is a free shuttle service between closed stations and the Metro stations at Reagan National Airport, Crystal City and the Pentagon.
Of the five different shuttle routes, three are express routes with no stops: the Huntington-Pentagon Express, Franconia-Pentagon Express and Landmark-Pentagon Express. The direct line between Landmark Mall and Pentagon Metrorail Station was added just last week. The remaining two shuttles, the Blue Line Shuttle and Yellow Line Shuttle, will imitate the different Metro line routes and stop at multiple stations.
Metro will provide 154 buses and 300 drivers, according to Lambert. Shuttles will operate every five to 10 minutes from 5:30 to 9:30 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. Frequency decreases during off-peak hours, and shuttles could take up to 15 minutes during middays and weekends and up to 20 minutes after 9:30 p.m.
In addition to the free shuttles, WMATA will offer enhanced Metrobus service on the 10A, 10E, 8Z and 11Y, according to a draft of the city’s mitigation plan. Most significantly, WMATA is adding bidirectional midday service on the 11Y.
Enhanced DASH service
One of the city’s travel alternatives, which will be financed by city and state funding, is enhanced DASH service.
DASH will be adding extra weekday trips to the AT3 and AT4 routes, which has service to the Pentagon. DASH trips will not be free, but the company is planning to provide $1 rides to those who pay through the mobile app.
The city did a dry run of the bus and shuttle routes when Metro stations were closed the weekend of May 4 and 5 for pre-construction activity. Based on the dry run, Lambert said the city would be encouraging travelers to add 30 minutes to their normal travel time if they plan to use buses or shuttles.
“That’s about the time difference that we’ve been seeing,” Lambert said. “One thing that I heard when I was riding the shuttles myself over the weekend of May 4 and 5 is how many people were commenting that they take the speed of Metrorail for granted.
“When you take a big piece of the existing transportation system out of that system, and then you put all those people … onto roads that already have limited capacity, we just need people to understand that it’s going to be a little bit slower than it was, so we’re asking for people’s patience and understanding,” Lambert said.
Temporary traffic changes
In addition to the shuttles and buses that will be on the roads, a city survey asking what transportation methods Metro riders would use during the shutdown, the results of which were made public in January, reported that 20 percent of the 2,535 respondents would either drive alone, carpool or use ride-share apps.
To brace for increased traffic congestion, the city is making a series of temporary traffic changes.
“Our focus is going to be on the [bus] transit route, but we accept and acknowledge that there will be more vehicles on our streets,” Lambert said. “That’s the reason why we are proposing some of the changes that we are proposing, primarily so that we can improve the capacity of the street grid.”
One major adjustment involves changing HOV requirements on Washington Street from HOV-2, a minimum of two riders, to HOV-3, a minimum of three riders. Other temporary changes include removing parking spaces, removing “Do not enter” signs on Payne and Fayette streets, expanding traffic sensors and adjusting signals in real-time using traffic cameras.
“We will have the ability to monitor in real time driving conditions on both east-west and north-south streets throughout the city, and we are also dramatically stepping up our coordination with emergency management,” Lambert said.
Potomac Riverboat Company
While most of the city and WMATA’s efforts aim to ease the inevitable increase in road congestion, some mitigation measures will get commuters off the streets and into the Potomac River.
The Potomac Riverboat Company is one business that may benefit from the shutdown. While the water taxi service had previously been barred from operating before 9:30 a.m., the restriction has been lifted to give commuters another way to get into Washington D.C.
“We always had people say, ‘Wow, I wish you operated earlier in the morning so we could take this to work,’” Mary Rinaldo, regional vice president of Entertainment Cruises Inc., said. “For us, it’s a service that we would like to be able to do permanently, so we were willing to jump in and do whatever it took to prove this was a viable service for Alexandria residents.”
During the shutdown, Potomac Riverboat Company will offer discounted water taxi rides between Alexandria and the Wharf during commuting hours. A round-trip commuter ticket will be $10, half the price of an ordinary round-trip ticket. They will also offer a $199 commuter pass for unlimited water taxi rides during the shutdown.
“It’s a really great deal,” Rinaldo said. “You can use it as many times as you want a day, you can use that commuter pass seven days a week, so really, if you’re going to make water taxis your way to get to D.C. all the time, after three months it becomes almost a dollar a ride.”
The company has adjusted its schedule to add seven water taxi trips departing Alexandria between 6:40 and 9:20 a.m. Each water taxi can hold up to 149 riders. A full schedule is available online at www.potomacriverboatco.com/commuter-passes/.
To help transport commuters to the waterfront, the city has extended the King Street trolley hours to operate 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on weekdays.
For those who find the transit alternatives too time-consuming or inconvenient, another mitigation method the city is encouraging is teleworking.
“Even here at the city, we are pushing telework as an option,” Lambert said. “We are reminding [city employees] that the city has a very solid telework plan in place and that as long as people establish telework agreements with their supervisor it’s something that the city is very supportive of.”
For residents looking to remain in the city instead of commuting into D.C. or surrounding jurisdictions, Alexandria offers a variety of coworking spaces with different memberships and amenities.
Kelly Grant, chief operating officer of ALX Community, the coworking space on Lee Street, said she’s already gotten a lot of interest leading up to the shutdown.
“Since the announcement of the Metro closing … I have people coming in every day and booking memberships,” Grant said. “Employers are being a lot more flexible too, because if a commute was already going to be bad, why are you going to force your workforce to sit in traffic for an hour and a half when they have other options? … Employers want you to be productive, not sitting there in traffic.”
ALX Community, Novel Coworking Old Town, Industrious and other coworking spaces in Alexandria offer a variety of flexible memberships.
More information about Alexandria’s Metro shutdown mitigation plan is available at www.alexandriava.gov/tes under “2019 Metrorail Platform Improvement Project.” Updates on the project itself is available at www.wmata.com/platforms.
City residents seeking trip planning assistance can call 703-746-3274 weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. In addition, there will be customer service street teams at Alexandria Metro stations during the first few days of the shutdown.