Dupont Metro’s escalator face-lift comes full circle

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For the first time in 8 1/2 months, it was business as usual at Metro’s Dupont Circle south entrance, with no construction equipment or maintenance crews to be seen as officials opened three new escalators at the busy subway station.

Standing in front of a large white poster that read “Welcome back to Dupont Circle South,” Metro General Manager and CEO Richard Sarles said the newest additions “represented one of the largest and most complex escalator projects” for the transportation system.

“These were among the most unreliable escalators in the system,” Mr. Sarles said. “They were old and the manufacturer had gone out of business. Customers had to face walking up more than 100 steps or turning back and going to the other entrance. The more than 20,000 riders now have a much more safe and reliable escalator option.”

The project is part of a far-reaching effort to overhaul the system’s aging escalator and elevator system. A spokesman for the system said more than 90 escalators are going to be replaced in the next six or seven years.

The new escalators at the southern entrance at Dupont are not only more reliable, Mr. Sarles said, but brighter, quieter and “transit-grade.”

“They are more robust, more durable,” he said. “Think heavy duty.”

On Sunday, the three escalators, two going up and one going down, hummed smoothly along their paths, running-lights aglow and no trace of scuff marks or wear and tear from riders.

Admiring the new stairs after she made her way up the 85-foot climb, Dupont Circle resident Ann Bryant, 63, said she wasn’t too affected by the closure because she lives near the northern entrance, but she was happy people inconvenienced by having to trek north finally had gotten a reprieve.

“I felt badly for people who had to do it but didn’t want to,” she said. “People just zoned out and did it.”

The relatively quiet tunnel was a stark difference from previous months during the project, which required lifting equipment and heavy-duty tools to remove and replace the existing moving stairs.

Each of the old escalators weighed about 55 tons, according to Metro, and because of the narrow space, each had to be cut into 24 pieces and hauled out by a crane.

The new escalators required similar treatment, and nearly 150 lifts from cranes were required to complete the overhaul.

The roughly $12 million project initially was projected to take 13 months but was adjusted to accommodate riders as well as nearby businesses, a move appreciated by the community, said Michael Silverstein, an advisory neighborhood commissioner for Dupont Circle.

The south entrance, located along 19th Street, opens to a block of restaurants, bars and cafes. During the project, the street was closed at times to make room for the cranes.

“It was going to cause a lot of pain,” Mr. Silverstein said. “These businesses depend on foot traffic. With the shortening of the time, and working nights and weekends, it’s a credit” to the transportation system.

The station opened in 1977, and as of 2010, was the sixth-busiest station, with nearly 23,000 riders each weekday.

D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat and former member of the Metro Board, recalled his struggles to get ahead of escalator problems in the system, and the benefit of this project’s completion.

He said “Metro needs to grow” and urged the construction of more intercity lines.

Mr. Evans also good-naturedly suggested system officials allow more movies to be filmed in the stations to get extra revenue, the way Baltimore let the Kevin Costner film “No Way Out” and another thriller to be filmed in Charm City under the guise of a D.C. train stop.

“They rode a real motorcycle down the Metro,” he said with a laugh. “I think we ought to let them do that stuff here.”

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