Dr. Gridlock’s traffic, transit tips: Dulles-bound transit users would need train plus bus

Robert Thomson
Columnist September 21, 2013
Dulles Airport bus

During my online chat Monday, a reader asked about the District’s proposal to drop Metrobus 5A, the service that links L’Enfant Plaza with Dulles International Airport. Ending the route was among many proposals that went before the public at hearings this past week.

“It seems that they want to totally eliminate the 5A bus to Dulles,” the commenter wrote. “If so, are they proposing substitute service from some point on the Silver Line to Dulles? Dulles is one of the few major airports where it is difficult for people to get to and I certainly wouldn’t want it made worse.”

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region. View Archive

The proposal would make it worse, but there would be bus connections from the Silver Line’s Wiehle Avenue station in the Reston area to the airport. One alternative service from Wiehle Avenue would be the Fairfax Connector’s new Route 981.

The 5A should end only when the Silver Line is completed through the airport station. Until then, air travelers should continue to have a one-seat public-transit ride to and from the District.

Bus route comments

If you missed the six public hearings on the proposed Metrobus changes, you can still comment on the changes in writing until 5 p.m. Tuesday. E-mail writtentestimony@wmata.com, or send a letter to the Office of the Secretary, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, 600 Fifth St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.

People also can take Metro’s online survey about the bus proposals at www.wmata.com/buschangessurvey .

The deadline for this is also 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Seminary Road ramp

The Virginia Department of Transportation has scheduled a public information meeting for Oct. 1 on plans to build a high-occupancy vehicle ramp at Seminary Road in Alexandria. The ramp is a big part of the state’s program to ease the impact of the federal base- realignment program, which added hundreds of employees at Mark Center, just off Interstate 395 on Seminary Road.

The meeting will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at Francis Hammond Middle School, 4646 Seminary Rd., Alexandria.

The project is scheduled to be done in 2015. So far, the impact on commuters from this part of the federal worker realignment has not been as bad as I feared. The arrival of the new employees was slowed, and some short-range improvements were made to ease the traffic impact on an area not well served by transit.

The new ramp is designed to be a long-term improvement for drivers and bus riders.

SmarTrip changes

The cost of a new Metro SmarTrip card will drop from $5 to $2 on Oct. 1. If you’re thinking of waiting until then to convert from paper Farecards to the plastic SmarTrip, that’s not a good bet for a regular rider. Using the paper card costs $1 extra per trip.

With the drop in the card’s price, the purchase rules become more complicated. People who buy the SmarTrip at a Metrorail station vending machine or a CVS store will still pay $10, but the card will come loaded with $8 in value rather than $5.

Riders will be able to purchase a card for $2 with no pre-loaded value at any Metro Sales Office or commuter store and some Giant and Safeway stores.

A related change also effective Oct. 1: Riders won’t be able to exit the fare gates with a negative balance of more than $1.50.

A negative balance means the trip you just took cost more than the value you had on the card.

If the negative value exceeds $1.50 — let’s say, if it’s $2 — you will need to go over to an Exitfare machine in the station to add more value to the card. Exitfare machines accept $1, $5 and $10 bills, but not debit or credit cards.

SmarTrip tip

SmarTrip has a feature called Auto Reload, which would spare you that Exitfare hassle by automatically adding value to the card when it drops below $10.

See details at www.wmata.com/­autoreload .

For more transportation news, visit washingtonpost.com/transportation.

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