Metro, city plan mitigation strategies for six-week shutdown

Metro, city plan mitigation strategies for six-week shutdown
Credit: Catherine Kane

By Catherine Kane | 

WMATA has announced travel alternatives during major disruptions to service on the Blue and Yellow lines south of Ronald Reagan National Airport this fall as it completes the Potomac Yard Station and makes repairs to a tunnel.

Between Sept. 10 and Oct. 22, no trains will run south of Reagan National Airport. Braddock Road, King Street, Van Dorn Street, Franconia-Springfield, Eisenhower Avenue and Huntington stations will be closed.

During the six-week closure, WMATA will be connecting the Potomac Yard station to the mainline system; the new station is between the current stops at Reagan National Airport and Braddock Road and will be serviced by the Blue and Yellow lines. WMATA will conduct operations to “integrate the track, power, communications, and signal systems into the system,” according to a news release. This work constitutes Phase 1 of the planned work.

Phase 2 involves major work on a Yellow line tunnel which will affect the bridge across the Potomac River and cause disruptions for eight months. Between September 2022 and May 2023, there will be no service between Pentagon and L’Enfant Plaza stations on the Yellow line.

When WMATA announced the closures in June, Alexandria city staff said that DASH buses would not have the capacity to mitigate the effects of the closure, unlike the Metro closure in 2019, in which DASH filled in the gaps in rail service.

In June, WMATA announced it would be providing options to commuters during the closures. Seven free shuttles will be offered in Phase 1 during regular Metrorail operating hours. Local and express routes will be available for the Blue and Yellow lines. Rush hour shuttles will also be available on a limited basis for peak direction service between stations in Virginia and Washington, D.C. Blue line train frequency between Reagan and New Carrollton will increase.

During Phase 2 of construction, which begins in late October and will last until May, all stations will reopen, including the grand opening of Potomac Yard, and trains will resume running south of Reagan. During this time, all Yellow line stations will be serviced by Blue or Green line trains. WMATA will also continue to run limited rush hour shuttles between Virginia and D.C.

This planned construction runs concurrently with WMATA’s 7000-series woes. The 7000-series, which makes up 60% of Metro’s fleet, was the flagship train of the transit system with its sleek silver exterior and modern interior furnishings. However, in October, WMATA pulled the trains from service after a derailment caused by a wheel deficiency. Since then, with the majority of its fleet depleted, Metro has had to decrease train frequencies, much to the ire of commuters who have double digit wait times.

Whether Metro will be able to follow through with its plans to increase train frequency on in-service parts of the Blue and Green lines largely hinges on the full return of the 7000-series trains.

Though DASH will not be filling in the gaps caused by the closures, the city still plans to play an active role in mitigating the effects. The Department of Transportation and Environmental Services presented mitigation plans to City Council that include a VRE fare subsidy, converting the HOV lanes on Washington Street from 2+ to 3+ occupants to improve bus service and providing transit incentives for using the Potomac Yard Station once it is open.

Thomas Hamed, an urban planner with the city’s transit office, said that the city aims to make accommodations where Metro can’t.

“[WMATA] will be providing buses that replace Metrorail … but they can’t replace all of the trips, they just simply don’t have the capacity, so they need their local partners to help out. That’s where we come in,” he said.

Hamed also said they were working with Potomac Water Taxi on a possible fare incentive program.

T&ES also got approval from City Council to apply for up to $1 million in state grant money to cover mitigation costs. If the city is awarded the grant, they would have to match one-fifth of the value of the money received.

VRE is also making plans to be a major contributor to the mitigation efforts. The rail service is considering plans to make October a fare-free month for riders “traveling between Alexandria or Crystal City and either going across the river to L’Enfant or Union Station or going south towards Franconia-Springfield,” according to a proposal. This proposal is in addition to VRE’s plans for fare-free travel for all riders in September.

A statement from a WMATA spokeswoman Sherri Ly emphasized the transit agency’s collaboration with the city. “We have been in frequent contact with Alexandria since the spring regarding the development of alternatives during the shutdown through monthly coordination meetings, providing briefings at [City Council] meetings and attending community outreach events,” Ly wrote.

Ly also explained Metro’s need for a six-week closure.

“Due to the scheduling revisions that have occurred, Metro determined that the current six-week approach was the best, most efficient way to complete the needed track work and associated testing while reducing the inconvenience to customers.”

City transit staff said they are reusing much of their playbook from the 2019 Metro shutdown.

“We have a good template from what happened in 2019 to apply it in 2022. We’ve seen this before and in many ways this is not as big of a lift for us as a city,” Hamed said.