- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

For subway commuters used to delays and long lines, Metro’s latest maintenance surge is posing only a “minor inconvenience.”

But for those traveling to and from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, the third phase of Metro’s “SafeTrack” plan could be, well, problematic. Under Phase Three, Blue and Yellow line service between Braddock Road and the airport will be shut down for the next week.

Wednesday marked the first morning rush hour commute of Phase Three with long lines that snaked from the Braddock Road station doors to the bus loading zones — but riders were not at a standstill. Metro workers said buses would arrive at 10-minute intervals, and the stream of buses was fairly constant, with dozens of employees directing passengers.

Retired editor Laura Little has lived in the Braddock Road area for 34 years. Her commute to Crystal City, where she volunteers at the SeniorTech Computer Center, is normally a 20-minute subway ride. She said Wednesday that she had left home a half-hour earlier than usual, but she probably would still get to work ahead of schedule.

Officials have described the yearlong SafeTrack initiative as a learning process, with each new phase an opportunity to improve upon the last.

The recently completed Phase Two closed rails between the Eastern Market and Minnesota Avenue/Benning Road stations, and riders have reported shorter delays and greater ease in using shuttle buses.

Phase Three, which largely affects Northern Virginia commuters, responded to Phase Two concerns of overcrowded buses, by providing both more buses and larger buses, said Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld.

The Metroway, a recently-extended rapid transit bus route on the Route 1 corridor, is one of several busing options that include Metrobus and Driving Alexandria Safely Home. Additionally, bus systems are offering extra service to accommodate more riders.

Some riders may find it inconvenient to get off the train at Braddock Road and then take a bus to Crystal City, where they get back on the train. But apparently it’s no big deal for commuters who live near Braddock Road.

Josh Schle, who lives right by the Braddock Road station, said the only change to his morning commute was the mode of transportation. Mr. Schle said he doesn’t have to play the get-on, get-off game: He can just take the bus to work.

“My work’s pretty flexible so I didn’t really allot any extra time,” said Mr. Schle, a project control specialist.

Mostly homes surround the Braddock Road station, and new high rises flank its parking lots. Residents who commute to Crystal City or Pentagon City can avoid riding the subway for the next week.

Metro has amped up bus service, but officials say subway ridership needs to decrease sharply. Buses can accommodate only about 30 percent of regular subway riders. Commuters are strongly encouraged to find travel alternatives and leave buses for those with no other options.

Mr. Schle said his employers also allow telecommuting, another option for those affected by transit service changes.

Metro has told its regular customers about changes in its service under SafeTrack. But for riders outside the metropolitan area, those same changes may cause confusion.

Visitors staying within the District can still take Yellow and Blue lines to the airport; for those in Virginia, getting there is far more difficult.

Without rail service, anyone going to the airport must rely on cars or buses — and a limited number of free shuttles will be provided throughout the surge. Only three miles separate Braddock Road and the airport, but anyone flying out of Reagan National may have to budget extra time to for congestion.

Last year, nearly 2 million travelers passed through the airport in July, according to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. This year, passenger traffic has been even higher on average.

An estimated 20 percent of these travelers would normally use Metro to get to the airport.

Wednesday morning, airline travelers were easily identifiable at Braddock Road Station, many toting rolling suitcases. One couple dressed in floral shirts ran the length of the bus zone looking for a shuttle. They didn’t have time to talk, said the woman, because they had a flight to catch.

Raymond Hayhurst is the Alexandria coordinator for Complete Streets, a program that seeks to make public roads safe and accessible to motorists, bikers and pedestrians. Dressed in bike shoes and a neon yellow T-shirt, Mr. Hayhurst led Wednesday morning’s bike train — another alternative for beating congestion.

The bike trains run every half-hour from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and travel between Braddock Road, Crystal City and Pentagon City Metro stations. For those who do not own a bike, Capital Bikeshare offers a flat $2 rate for single trips under 30 minutes.

Only five bikers participated in Wednesday’s train, but Mr. Hayhurst is “hopeful” that more will join over the next few mornings.

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