Metro maintenance creates rush-hour headaches

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce
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Metro’s maintenance plan includes track outages.
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority photo by Larry Levine

Northern Virginia residents are adjusting their travel schedules as the 118-mile Metrorail transit system undergoes a maintenance overhaul.

In May, Metro began warning travelers that its maintenance schedule will have a significant effect on rush-hour commutes. In many cases, the work will reduce the frequency of trains.

Metro’s 11-month SafeTrack maintenance plan includes 15 “safety surges,” long-duration track outages for key parts of the system. The first surge started June 4 between the East Falls Church and Ballston stations.

In addition, the transit system is closing at midnight every night and expanding weekday maintenance operations by starting some jobs at 8 p.m.

Diana Sun, Arlington’s assistant county manager and director of communications, knows that this is just the beginning of a long year of inconvenience. “We are trying to figure out every possible way we can to get people to where they need to go,” she says.

In March, Metro had an emergency one-day shutdown, and many people had to find alternatives in getting to work. “That day went well,” Sun says. “What it says to me is that we can do it. It’s possible. It gives us hope.”

The county is encouraging businesses to offer employees alternatives, such as allowing them to telework or shift their schedules. “For those people who can telework, we want to encourage them to do so,” she says, noting that Arlington is making these adjustments for its employees. “Anything that will help to alleviate traffic.”

Other options include carpooling and bus transportation. “If you look at the sheer numbers, there are not enough buses to handle the Metro traffic,” Sun says, adding that the number of commuters riding bicycles to work increased during the Metro shutdown in March. “People that don’t live so far from work can take advantage of that. Also Uber expanded its carpooling that day as well.”

Sun hopes that commuters and businesses will find creative solutions. “The worst thing is to have one person in one car,” she says.

Arlington has a variety of options for commuters, including buses, Uber, Zipcar, Lyft, Car2Go, Capital Bikeshare and ART (Arlington Transit). Commuters can find a variety of options on the county’s where a section is devoted to SafeTrack information.

The shutdowns, of course, will include much more than Arlington. “This whole region is entirely interlinked,” Sun says. “It’s all connected. It has to be everybody pulling together.”

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