Following decades of maintenance failures and neglect, the yearlong rehabilitation of Washington, D.C.’s beleaguered Metro system, which begins next month, will debilitate commuter travel across the region, officials announced today.
Starting June 4, 15 portions of the rail lines, including the Blue and Yellow lines from Pentagon City to National Airport and the Blue Line from Rosslyn to Pentagon, will be shut for up to a month as workers condense three years’ worth of railway maintenance into a yearlong operation under what is known as the SafeTrack plan, which is anticipated to be the most disruptive overhaul in the Metro’s 40-year history. The repairs will tackle almost every aspect of infrastructure, including debris clearing, rail renewal and emergency signage.
The accelerated plan entails a moratorium on extended hours and midnight closings on Fridays and Saturdays starting June 3, in addition to the 15 “safety surges” that will shutter segments of the line for weeks at a time.
The Metro plans to mitigate the railway’s disruption by providing 40 to 50 buses for alternate transportation and by implementing additional trains on lines where capacity is reduced. In addition, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld asked local government to cooperate in order to accommodate the closures, according to an interview Wiedefeld had with The Washington Post before releasing the draft plans.
“We cannot keep trying to Band-Aid over these issues,” Wiedefeld told The Washington Post. “This is tough medicine. But we have to take it. And the sooner we take it, the better we’re all going to be.”
According to The Washington Post, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said the renovation will likely have the largest ramifications on Rockville, Bethesda and Chevy Chase, areas already subject to heavy commuter traffic.
“It will mean added traffic congestion throughout that entire corridor, which is already buffeted with huge amounts of traffic,” Leggett said. “It will also mean safety concerns, because once you put all those cars on the road … it will mean a domino effect. It will mean some disruption of the local economy in those areas,” Leggett said.
The maintenance neglect over the past decades has prompted fires, service outages and broken trains to stall passengers, most recently when a debris fire closed the Capitol South and Federal Center SW station on May 5.
In January 2015, a smoke-filled tunnel enveloped a train near the L’Enfant Plaza station, killing one passenger and harming dozens more. Last month, the Metro shut the subway for an unprecedented 24 hours for an emergency inspection of the system’s third-rail power cables.
During a press conference Friday, President Barack Obama highlighted the Metro’s woes as a symptom of the crumbling infrastructure nationwide, attributing the problems to limitations on budgetary spending.
“It is just one more example of the underinvestments that have been made,” Obama said. “Look, the D.C. Metro historically has been a great strength of this region, but over time we underinvested in maintenance and repair.”