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Roads and Rails: H Street Closures, Inauguration Overload and more

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Eric Weiss and Lena Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 5, 2009; 11:00 AM

Do you think Metro has grown unreliable and become downright unpleasant? Or are you happy with your commutes on rail and bus? Does the thought of the intercounty connector (ICC) keep you up at night or does it seem like it's long overdue? And what of the moves by Maryland and Virginia to encourage the private sector to build road projects, such as widening the Capital Beltway?

Washington Post staff writers Eric Weiss and Lena Sun were be online Monday, Jan. 5 at 11 a.m. ET to answer your questions, particularly about transit and traffic issues surrounding the inauguration.

The transcript follows.

Discussion Archive

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Eric Weiss: Good morning commuters! Can't wait for Inauguaral gridlock?

Happy with Metro service?

We welcome your questions, concerns, and gripes. Have at us.

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Alexandria. Va.: Isn't it about time the generic "Dulles Toll Road" get a real name? A friend inadvertently found himself in Leesburg after he took the "other" toll road with a Dulles terminus, the Greenway, by mistake.

I realize I was partially to blame by telling him to take the Dulles Toll Road instead of telling him to just follow the signs to Washington. But he correctly noted the shortsightedness of this area's transportation planners by calling something the "Dulles Toll Road" as if a second toll road would never have been built.

Eric Weiss: How about Oh Dear How Expensive Road?

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Arlington, Va.: Will Metro be running its "normal" service on Saturday-Monday of inauguration weekend? We've heard a lot about the plans for Tuesday, but I'm worried about people being able to get to events the rest of the weekend, including the large event at the Lincoln Memorial. Will they be running adequate service?

Lena Sun: I had the same question myself when I saw the projected crowd estimate for some of the weekend events. At the moment, Metro has not announced any additional changes to run more than its normal service on Saturday-Monday. But I bet that is being discussed internally.

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Trinidad, D.C.: Hello, Do you know when the construction around the starburst intersection of Florida Avenue, H Street, Benning Road and Bladensburg Road in NE will be complete? We've lived in the area for 6 months and it has been a complete mess the entire time with little evident progress.

Eric Weiss: Only two more years. The reconstruction is a three year project that started six months before you moved to the neighborhood.

btw, CVS sells excellent earplugs.

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Arlington, Va.: Any updated word on what those of us who live too far to walk are supposed to do on Inauguration Day when all the trains are likely going to be too full to board?

Will there be some provision for those of who live in places like Arlington and NW/NE DC?

Lena Sun: Metro is urging folks to take the bus. If you go their website, www.wmata.com, they have information about the inaugural and there is a brochure that shows several Metrobus routes that will get folks from surrounding area to areas close to the Mall.

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Bethesda, Md.: Greetings. My office just announced it is closed for the inauguration and I am now thinking about joining the masses and witnessing this historic event. I'd like to avoid Metrorail if possible. Is there any sign Metrobus might be better? I was thinking that after the swearing in I would walk up 17th to Connecticut and catch a Metrobus up Connecticut Avenue and into Maryland.

Lena Sun: Let's hope so. Metro officials are urging people to take the bus or walk. On their website, there is a special section about the inaugural and if you go to Travel Tips, there is a brochure and map that shows several major bus routes. this is the link. http://www.wmata.com/getting_around/metro_events/inauguration_walking_map.pdf

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Bethesda, Md.: Legion bridge -- In one of the articles about the cracked span that was fixed this weekend (at least I presume it was fixed as no lanes were shut down this morning?), one of the Maryland transportation planners or engineers was quoted (I don't remember whom) saying something to the effect of "the state has already begun planning the replacement of this bridge", which got me all kinds of excited thinking Maryland would only be a few years behind Virginia dead ending those HOT lanes at the most highly traveled section of the beltway, then he said "in 15-20 years."

Are they for real? No plans to do ANYTHING for 15-20 years? You could write a whole series of articles on how many people this affects today and how many more it will affect in 5 years, much less 15-20. I cannot believe the state is that ignorant. Please say it ain't so.

washingtonpost.com: Legion Bridge Lane Closed

Eric Weiss: Replacing a bridge that carries the Capital Beltway and 200,000-plus motorists across the Potomac is a major undertaking.

Planning for the replacement of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge first took place during Wilson's administration (slight exaggeration).

This is a project that is way, way into the future, even in infrastructure time. A replacement bridge, in addition to handling more capacity, will likely have a transit component and provisions for carrying HOT Lanes over the Potomac.

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H street bus stops: Is there a detour map for all the Metro buses than drive down H street? H and Vermont is a stop for many routes.

Lena Sun: We've gotten a lot of comments today about bus detours and backups because of street closures. Metro says the X2, the 30s line, the S1 and S2 are all affected by the closures. These are heavily used lines and the bus people are trying to get detours posted on the Metro website.

If I get that info before noon, will post it on the chat as well.

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DC: I just need to vent...getting to work south of H St. NW this morning was awful. 14th through 17th Sts were closed due to Obama's stay at the Hay Adams and 11th St. was stopped dead for construction, leaving only 13th St. Can't wait until all this is over.

Eric Weiss: The choice of the Hay-Adams was unfortunate for commuters, since they have already closed off Pennsylvania, E Street and other avenues that used to be important east-west commuter routes.

This is what Blair House is for. I am very curious who the Republican swells are who are staying in Blair House's 14 (14!) bedrooms between now and the 15th, when the Prez-elect traditionally moves in.

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Washington, D.C.: I have yet another question about the inauguration! I live downtown, outside of the charter bus parking zone. I know that on Monday, Jan. 19, there will be no parking restrictions, but will there be parking restrictions for Tuesday? Meaning, can a friend of mine who lives in Virginia drive her car into the city on Saturday and park on the street in a residential zone, and then leave it there until Tuesday night, when she drives back home to Virginia? Or would she get a ticket for violating residential parking rules, or not paying for a meter? Thanks!!

Eric Weiss: We are getting ahead of ourselves. We do not know yet the boundaries or the rules for parking and transportation for the Inauguration. The U.S. Secret Service is expected to release detailed transport and parking plans as early as this week.

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Petworth: I can't stand it any more. I have determined that WMATA just doesn't think.

I ride the bus. My bus was discontinued over the holidays, replaced by a new bus line and changes to an existing bus line. They STILL have not released maps and schedules for the new 63 and the changed 64. I hear they've changed the H8 and added a 43 route to the Mt Pleasant line, but there are no maps or schedules for that too.

In general,I approve of the change to smart trip cards, but at the same time, I do have some doubts. For example, the other day, I sent someone off to BWI via the B30 bus. Fine, except that a week in advance of the changeover, they had already removed the transfer machines from the GA Ave metrorail station, so she had to pay full price on the bus. And from this day forward, anyone coming and going from the airports will have this problem.

Then there's this whole mess with the senior citizen cards. Was NOBODY thinking?

The answer, of course, is no. Nobody at WMATA is thinking about the passengers. I am so sick of this. Where's the board? Where's the accountability?!

Lena Sun: Hi Petworth. You have every right to be frustrated. They need to do a lot better.

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Falls Church, Va.: I just visited my brother in Portland, Ore., over the holiday. I used their light rail several times to get in and around downtown. The only flaw I saw was the proof of payment system it uses. At some stations there aren't enough fare machines for the large crowds or no working fare machines. Also many people just don't bother to pay. I hope our area considers the payment options when build new trains.

Eric Weiss: I also took the Portland light rail from the airport to downtown. My greatest beef was how slow it went.

A similarly confusing payment system is in place in the North Jersey/Hudson River light rail line. You buy your tickets then must validate them. Very confusing. My brother got a ticket when he went up to some cops to ask them a question about it (true story).

I'm sure all the kinks will be worked out by the time light rail comes to the Washington region, no?

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Washington, D.C.: Can we expect horrible traffic every morning for the next four years? I realize the Obama girls needed to get to school, but is it going to be this ridiculous? Traffic was backed up for miles.

Eric Weiss: Um, not to defend the Obamas, but haven't we had "horrible traffic every morning" for years, during both Democratic and Republican administrations?

Even during Whig administrations, horse carts were stuck in the mud along Pennsylvania Avenue for blocks, tying up commuters.

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Arlington, Va.: So I'm having a party on inauguration day -- it's also my birthday! I want to invite folks over for brunch and to watch on TV. The problem? I live on Wilson Blvd between Rosslyn and Court House. I have no idea how people will actually GET to my house. You think there's a chance people can Metro? What about hiring a cab that day? Any predictions there? I know driving and parking is probably out, you should have seen my neighborhood on Halloween. Suggestions welcome, thanks.

Lena Sun: Oh boy. Well, we can at least wish you happy birthday for starters. Honestly, I think it's going to be really tough on the rail that day. Charter buses will be allowed to park at two of the stations on the Orange Line, Vienna and West Falls Church. So I expect a huge crush to be heading downtown. Trains traveling from the other end of the Orange Line will be less full once they pass downtown, but not sure where your friends would be getting on.

It's going to be so crowded that Metro is saying that folks should NOT transfer at the major hubs like Metro Center and Gallery Place.

I think cabs will be allowed on the 14th Street bridge. what about biking?

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Silver Spring, Md.: Speaking of walking -- will there be any designated walking corridors for the inauguration? A lot of people (well, me) would be willing to walk 5 miles or so to get to the Mall but it is not clear that this will be a realistic option.

Is there any chance that the Rock Creek Parkway/Beach Drive would be closed ALL the way down to the Watergate for walkers/bikers only? How about any of the Potomac Bridges from Virginia? Ten thousand people walking down the sidewalks of 7th Street with lights and gridlock at every block isn't really a good option.

Eric Weiss: I can't imagine that the Rock Creek Park bike/walk path would be closed, but then again, this is Washington, where surprises never cease.

My guess is that officials will try to make it as easy and safe to walk to the inaugural events. While details have not yet been released, I think we can count on Memorial Bridge, with its large pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, being a major walking route.

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washingtonpost.com: Charter Bus Parking Plan (Post, Dec. 25)

Lena Sun: For those of you who asked about residential parking, here is a map that shows the areas that will be set aside for charter bus parking ONLY. That means other vehicles cannot park along these streets beginning 12:01 a.m. Tuesday Jan. 20 or they will be towed.

There will be more street closures announced by Secret Service later.

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Washington, D.C.: Posting the info about the S bus detours would be fabulous. I know Metro likely received NO advanced notice of the street closures from the Secret Service, but it annoys me that there are No Bus Service alerts on the website. I want to figure out how I'm going to get home after my ridiculous commute this morning!

Lena Sun: I hear you.

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SOURCE: D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency | By Laris Karklis - The Washington Post - December 25, 2008

Lena Sun: this map shows the areas set aside for charter buses, as well as the secure zone, where no parking will be allowed.

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Alexandria, Va.: Can I drive into DC from Virginia the day of the Inauguration, via I-395 across the 14th Street Bridge? My office is right at the end of the bridge so I don't have to cross Pennsylvania Avenue.

Eric Weiss: While the detailed transportation plan for the inauguration has not been released, sources have said that major Potomac crossings, including the 14th Street Bridge, will be reserved for buses and authorized vehicles.

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Penn Ave: Can you tell us where the access points will be to cross Pennsylvania Ave. during the inauguration? I was planning on taking the red line from Glenmont to Metro Center but it appears that the parade route (along Pennsylvania Ave) will block red liners from accessing the mall. Any ideas?

Eric Weiss: Once again, while many Washington-area residents are busy preparing for dealing with inaugural-related transportation problems, details on how the Powers That Be will handle the crowds and vehicles have not been released, including the crossing points for Pennsylvania Avenue.

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Arlington, Va.: The folks staying in Blair House until 1/15 are Cheney's hunting buddies and the lawyers he hasn't shot.

Can the liberal leftists bias. It's Obama's fault not W's or the Republicans. Did the girls really need to start school on time?

Eric Weiss: Do your kids start school on time?

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Bethesda, Md.: Metro lists the outage of all escalators at a station as a service disruption. A while back when the Tenleytown escalators were all out there were signs suggesting that take the elevator if they were out of shape.

Metro has recently announced that it will be shutting down all escalators on inauguration day. Is Metro leaving itself open to a negligence suit if an exhausted inauguration attendee has a heart attack or other health issue walking up a long escalator at the end of the day.

Sorry for sounding morbid, but I was jury duty and sat on negligence case.

Lena Sun: The reason they are taking the escalators out of service is to avoid the danger of having a down escalator keep bringing more people to a crowded platform. Think about the potential for lawsuits there if the platform is full and more people are funneled down.

If the escalators are out, people will walk down them, and stop when there is no room to go forward.

Also, Metro may still operate escalators going up. They are also thinking of turning some station entrances into entrance-only and exit-only to help crowd control.

The reason they want to stop the up escalators has to do with safety. They want to avoid trips and falls and if too many people are on the escalators, the excess weight can trip a safety mechanism and stop the escalator.

If you have a heart issue, Metro suggests you take the elevator. And they are putting out extra personnel to keep all that equipment running.

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Proof of Payment: Last February, I used Baltimore's light rail system to get from Penn Station to a doctor's office. I duly bought my ticket at the machine, and then, after I boarded, I offered it to the conductor. He waved me away, saying, "don't worry about that, miss." Nobody else made any attempt to show that they had paid, nor did the conductor ask anybody for tickets.

I honestly can't see how that kind of system works in the long term.

Eric Weiss: In Europe (and perhaps Portland, which is a European outpost) most people pay and the enforcement system is based on "trust.''

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Washington, D.C.: A few streets are closed near Farragut Square for the next two weeks, by the hotel the president-elect is staying at. The G8 bus route goes through the closed area, so presumably it will be detoured, but I can't find any information on Metro's Web site under either route changes or bus detours. Thanks.

Lena Sun: I just checked the website. On their home page, if you click on the green BUS tab under Metro Service Status, there is a listing of bus detours in the Washington downtown area,including G8.

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"Horrible Traffic for Years": Since Eric didn't answer the poster's question -- no, it won't be this bad for four year. The problem is with the Blair House "No Vacancy for You" policy and school starting today. I don't think people were even aware of when Chelsea was driven to school or ballet over eight years. This morning's craziness will end when the Obamas are in the White House.

Eric Weiss: I'm sorry, you are correct. Washington's third-worst-in-the-country traffic problems will disappear once the Obamas are happily at home in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

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Arlington, Va.: Are they EVER going to fix the escalators at Foggy Bottom? Or turn any of them on?

Lena Sun: I understand all three escalators at Foggy Bottom were out this a.m. One is out for a major overhaul. The second one had some sort of mechanical issue, so Metro shut down the third one so it could be used for people to go in both directions.

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Metro Center: More security theater. Man, I was so hoping that the Obamas might say to Secret Service, "Hey folks, you've gotten out of hand. While we need to be protected, we don't need to live in a bubble with a 10 block radius of no public contact."

But it seems to have stepped up another notch from the crazy levels of the Bush years. Will we ever have our country back, our city? Really, how can we say we are the land of the free, an open society, when we lock everything down like this?

Eric Weiss: The "bubble" that presidents live in comfortably rests over the White House, Camp David, etc. But when the prez-elect decides to decamp to a downtown hotel, the bubble effects all of us.

This is the president's city, we all just live in it.

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Baltimore: Have the Metro "random searches" taken place yet? If so, have you heard how well (or not) it worked?

Lena Sun: No, the random bag searches have not taken place yet. When they announced this program, officials said the searches would be triggered when the threat level goes up. That hasn't happened yet, so no searches. There will be lots of publicity about it when the first one takes place.

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Washington, DC: The more I read about the inauguration, the more concerned I am that this will break down into total chaos, turning dangerous. People at my Metro stop - Woodley Park - get angry when someone cuts in the elevator line of 10 people. I'm imagining thousands of people cramming down escalators, fighting at elevator lines, shoving onto trains, etc.

A few weeks ago, a service disruption on the Red Line meant that I waited for 7 trains to go by full (around 8:30am) before one showed up that had space. There were probably 200 people waiting at Woodley Park through all this.

Will Metro be placing more police throughout stations as you get closer to downtown, so that crowds that cannot get onto trains don't become out of control?

Lena Sun: I have the same concerns. Yes, Metro will have more staff on hand and transit police have asked for another 100 or so officers from other transit police departments to help with crowd control that day.

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Chevy Chase: Any idea if Chain Bridge will also be closed to personal vehicles on the 20th? I need to get from Arlington to Chevy Chase. I suppose I can go around the beltway.

Eric Weiss: While I would love to tell you that Chain Bridge will be excluded from the list of bridges that will be reserved for buses and authorized vehicles, we won't know for sure until the Secret Service releases its transport plan.

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Alexandria, Va.: What with the closing of H Street by the Hay Adams, how will the commuter buses be affected? I take the 11Y to work and home, but if the bus is tremendously diverted, would it make sense to just use Metro for the next few days?

I think it is a bit insane to close that one block that is used to transport so many people in and out of the city.

Lena Sun: From the complaints we've been hearing this morning about traffic backup because of the street closings, you might want to switch to rail for a few days until people figure out the new traffic pattern.

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Ballston, Va.: And you all said "But I bet that is being discussed internally." Would you bet on it?

Come on, Metro has not proven they can do anything right.

The inauguration has the potential to be a complete disaster because of Metro.

Lena Sun: I would bet on it. I think folks at Metro realize that the huge crowds will be an enormous challenge for them, and they have been trying to lower people's expectations that things will run smoothly.

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Rockville, Md.: Regarding the American Legion bridge replacement, how is one even expected to do this? With the Wilson Bridge replacement, they were able to build another bridge next to the current. With the American Legion bridge, there really isn't any place to do it.

I'm planning on leaving in 15-20 years after I read that.

Eric Weiss: Yes, that will indeed be a challenge. Even now there are no full shoulders on the bridge.

The 15-20-year timespan is another way of saying that replacing the bridge is currently on the backburner. Unfortunately, major projects like this get done only when it becomes an emergency (see bridge, Woodrow Wilson).

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Washington, D.C.: I have a parking space available behind my house at 1st St. and P St., NW. Does anyone want to rent it for the day in two weeks? Cash only.

Seriously, though -- when does Metro think its going to have passes successfully integrated into its SmartTrip cards? I remember their contractor fell on its face about the issue, but then I didn't hear anything about a time line after that.

Lena Sun: Hey, didn't I see this space already advertised on Craigslist?:) As for your question about passes being integrated onto SmarTrip, yes, the contractor (and Metro) have done a terrible job on that but officials are promising that it's possible the passes could be integrated by end of the year. But last time I wrote about this, I was told it would be 2010.

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European Trust: And if you're found to be without a ticket, you'll be fined on the spot. I've seen it happen.

Eric Weiss: Like Ronald Reagan said, "Trust but verify."

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Lena Sun: We're outta time folks. Hope you all had restful holidays and ready for a busy January on the transportation front. We'll keep you posted with the latest on inaugural-related transportation news. 'bye

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