Closures at 3 Virginia Metro Stations Slow Labor Day Weekend Travel

Metrobuses at Reagan National Airport are providing shuttle service to open Metrorail stations over the weekend.
Metrobuses at Reagan National Airport are providing shuttle service to open Metrorail stations over the weekend. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
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By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 6, 2009

Confusion reigned on crowded platforms at the Pentagon Metro station Saturday as locals and visitors searched for shuttle buses that would get them to or around three stations that are closed for repairs.

It was the first full day of major maintenance on the Blue and Yellow lines that will keep the Reagan National Airport, Crystal City and Pentagon City stations closed until Tuesday morning. The transit agency suggested that riders allow an additional 45 minutes for travel if they plan to pass through the affected area south from the Pentagon to Braddock Road. But the closures, which began at 9:30 p.m. Friday, seemed to catch many by surprise.

"People just don't know where things are," said Ketan Patel, 23 of the District, on his way from Foggy Bottom to shop at Pentagon City. "If you're upstairs, it doesn't tell you to go downstairs."

Earlier in the week, Metro's senior staff had been widely criticized for publicizing the shutdown only three days in advance.

Free shuttle buses, operating in 10- and 20-minute intervals, were packed with as many as 50 people through much of the day. In dozens of interviews, many riders complained that the signage was vague. Directional signs on most trains said "Special" and the buses said "Shuttle"-- making it unclear where they where headed.

Dozens of additional Metro workers, clad in fluorescent safety vests, tried to assist riders by distributing brochures and pointing people in the right direction. "When they're calling stuff out, you can't understand them," said Chris Mann, 55, a federal consultant who lives near the Pentagon City Station. "Once you get up to them, they're very nice."

From the Pentagon, a shuttle ride to Pentagon City took five minutes. The shuttle to the airport takes about 15 minutes. Metro said the ride between Braddock Road and the Pentagon is 20 minutes.

The closures are allowing crews to continue laying 2,000 feet of rail and replacing 800 ties. Four new track switches will be installed at the Pentagon City Station. Workers are doing bridge repairs at the airport station and installing equipment to improve cellphone service at the underground stations.

Metro spokeswoman Angela Gates said Saturday afternoon that all the projects were either on or ahead of schedule.

Agency officials, criticized for scheduling the work this weekend, say systemwide ridership is lower over the Labor Day break than during other holidays.

Neleta Holloway, 40, of the District boarded the Red Line at Takoma, where she has become accustomed to delays this summer after the crash in June that killed nine. She was heading to the airport to catch a flight to visit friends in New York City.

"It's a bit of an inconvenience, but I think I understand why they closed it," she said.

Bob Albertson, 48, of Roswell, Ga., wanted to visit the Mall. Unaware of the station closures, he and his wife bought all-day Metro passes and boarded at Huntington. It took an hour to reach the Pentagon.

The delays were "a pain," Albertson said. He assumed that Metro would be faster than trying to park a rental car. His wife, Lynne, 49, said: "We're going to rethink that tomorrow."

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