- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A new report says that traffic has increased but not too much since Metro track repairs began last month, as commuters turn to buses, bikes and carpools to get to work.

The study was conducted by the Transportation Planning Board of the Washington Council of Governments. It analyzed data gathered since the start of Metro’s “SafeTrack” maintenance plan, an effort aimed at condensing three years’ worth of rail work into one.

Under SafeTrack, the transit agency has decreased service hours, closed line segments and implemented single-tracking of trains to allow for repairs to be completed outside of regular maintenance hours. Metro has urged riders to find alternate transportation such as carpools, biking and telecommuting, as buses will be able to accommodate only 30 percent to 40 percent of regular subway riders.

Commuters in the D.C. area can celebrate that SafeTrack is more than a third of the way done. The fifth repair surge began Wednesday, and will last 12 days — with continuous single-tracking along the Silver and Orange lines between East Falls Church and Ballston stations.

Transportation officials said the report’s data on congestion during past surges will help preparations for future surges. Surge 5 affects the same area of track as Surge 1, which exhibited the greatest increases in traffic of the four surges analyzed.

The study noted a “general increase” in rush hour traffic congestion since SafeTrack began, compared to traffic levels in 2015.

The highest congestion increases were seen in Surge 1 during the 7 a.m.-8 a.m. rush hour (10 percent increase) and the 4 p.m.-5 p.m. rush hour (15 percent increase).

A seasonal decrease in traffic occurs as the summer begins and schools close. The study said this trend was seen in the four surges, and may account for more congestion during Surge 1, when schools were still in session.

Transportation Planning Board members and Metro officials discussed Wednesday the steps they have taken to assist riders during SafeTrack, and provide them with options that keep cars off the road.

Transportation engineer Eric Randall said that many jurisdictions have taken steps to ease traffic concerns and offer commuting options, including increased bus and bike services, as well as public awareness campaigns.

Jim Hamre, director of Metrobus Planning, spoke about the “reality of surges,” adding that buses are “really the glue around the region.”

In planning for each surge, he said he has aimed to provide bus service for commuters traveling along the same pathway they are used to riding, while looking at existing networks for different transit routes.

Metro has provided additional shuttles to ferry rail riders across closed track segments and has urged riders to use other transit systems; some Metro riders used the Virginia Railway Express during Surges 3 and 4.

According to Mr. Hamre, last week Metrobus attracted more than double its usual riders, and Metroway experienced a 107 percent increase for riders connecting in Alexandria during Surge 3.

Mr. Hamre hopes riders will continue to use Metrobuses, but the same may occur for those who have turned to the Virginia Railway Express.

At a press conference last month, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said he is not worried about riders failing to resume subway use.

But D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said that Metro’s efforts at public outreach have diminished with each successive surge.

Metro representatives said it is essential that as much attention be paid to telling riders when they can resume riding the subway as has been spent telling them to stay away.

“I think we also have to not forget to tell people when surges end and when they can come back to the rail,” said Sam Zimbabwe, associate director of the Policy, Planning and Sustainability Administration.

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