- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2016

The first real test of commuters’ patience will come Saturday, when the second leg of Metro’s yearlong overhaul will shut down portions of the Orange, Blue and Silver lines, affecting riders in the District, Prince George’s County and Northern Virginia.

The second of 15 “maintenance surges” will run until July 3 and will close lines from Eastern Market to Minnesota Avenue/Benning Road. Blue Line trains in Virginia will turn back at the Arlington Cemetery station with no bus bridge to take riders to Rosslyn, where the Blue Line picks up again.

“This next phase of work by [Metro] will have a much greater impact on the transportation network, and it’s imperative that commuters develop travel alternatives now,” said D.C. Transportation Director Leif A. Dormsjo.

Though the first phase of the “SafeTrack” overhaul caused some consternation among subway riders, the second surge will be much more impactful, according to several regional officials. There will be up to 60 percent fewer trains on either side of the shut-down portions of the affected lines.

Phase Two is expected to affect 70,000 riders on the eastern portion of the Orange, Blue and Silver lines alone, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said at a news conference Thursday.

Riders should rely on shuttle buses between the Eastern Market and the Minnesota Avenue/Benning Road stations. Metro warned on its website that those buses may be extremely crowded and passengers may need to wait for multiple buses due to long lines.

The District Department of Transportation issued a similar warning.

Metro “bus bridges will only be able to carry half the people who normally travel through the Eastern Market to Minnesota/Benning corridor,” Mr. Dormsjo said. “Metrorail customers who remain on the system should anticipate much longer commute times.”

Asked about dedicated bus lanes to help ease congestion and ferry riders, the transportation director said there wasn’t enough time to make that happen.

“We would have to do months of service planning to think through all the impacts,” Mr. Dormsjo said. “We could actually make the problem a lot worse, because we would be limiting that lane capacity for other motorists.”

Mr. Wiedefeld launched SafeTrack on June 4 to address longstanding maintenance lapses in the subway system, which has been beset by delays and smoke-and-fire incidents.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend said SafeTrack’s first phase saw more commuters using their cars to get to work in Northern Virginia, with heavier traffic especially on Interstate 66. The second phase will cause a lot more trouble, he said.

“It will be much more devastating because they’re shutting down stations instead of single-tracking,” Mr. Townsend said. “When you are shutting down complete stations, people are going to use their cars because some people just can’t be late for work.”

In an effort to ease the burden on commuters, the DDOT once again will expand no-parking zones in corridors affected by repair work. Parts of Benning Road and Florida Avenue in Northeast will see extended parking restrictions during morning and evening rush hours. Parts of New York Avenue in Northwest and North Capitol Street also will have restricted rush hour parking to keep traffic moving.

DDOT also imposed a moratorium on construction on portions of Pennsylvania Avenue, Potomac Avenue and 19th Street in Southeast, as well as East Capitol Street, Benning Road, 45th Street, Central Avenue, Minnesota Avenue, Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue and Deane Avenue in Northeast.

The District also will reset traffic signals in real time and increase the deployment of traffic control officers along bus bridges and high-impact corridors.

DDOT said that its Capital Bikeshare service set a record for usage during the first week of Safe Track. It had 89,436 riders last week — a 6 percent increase over the previous record, which was set in May during Bike to Work Week. The number of daily riders increased from about 600 to more than 1,300 last week. Capital Bikeshare is offering $2 single-trip rides as a way to get around Metro track work.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker is taking steps for commuters as well. The county will increase the capacity on the 15x bus route between Greenbelt and New Carrollton. That will allow riders to use the Green Line into the District instead of the Orange Line. Bus fares for the 15x express buses will be waived, and the county will have additional buses on hand to assist Metro.

The Maryland Transit Administration will provide additional MARC train capacity along the Camden Line and enforce all HOV restrictions on Route 50. Mr. Baker said that is to deter single drivers and encourage people to carpool.

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