Patrick Hearn was worrying about the coming week as he sat having a beer after work one night last week at Dos Amigos Mexican restaurant near the Braddock Road Metro station.
He wasn’t thinking about the corporate fraud cases he prosecutes at the Justice Department, but about how painful it was going to be to get to and from work during the 107-day shutdown of six Blue and Yellow line stations south of Reagan National Airport for platform reconstruction.
He didn’t sound confident that his commute would only be a half-hour longer, as Metro predicts.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said.
A recent poll by The Washington Post found that more riders feel positive about Metro than a couple of years ago. But as the start of the shutdown on Saturday neared, there was a sense of dread on Yellow and Blue line trains and around the stations.
Years of problems at Metro will do that.
In interviews, some of the estimated 19,000 riders who take Metro from the six stations during a typical morning commute were sorting through a vast array of travel alternatives — from taking morning local buses, VRE, Amtrak, bicycles, scooters, slug lines, carpools or one of Metro’s five shuttle routes, to even boating to work on a water taxi.
During the closure, the transit agency is running three express shuttle routes, going from Franconia-Springfield, Huntington and Landmark Mall directly to the Pentagon Metro station, where riders can connect to Metrorail.
A local shuttle will stop at all Blue Line stations from Franconia-Springfield to National Airport, but skip Braddock Road. Hearn was planning to take the Yellow Line local shuttle that will stop at stations from Huntington to Crystal City, except for the airport.
The shuttles are supposed to come every five minutes, but Hearn was worried they might be full by time they got to Braddock Road. He could picture himself standing there, one shuttle after another going by, too full to pick up more passengers.
“Am I going to be waiting there for an hour?” he wondered.
When Metro shut down the station at Reagan National last November, Nawal Atallah was caught up in the crowd trying to get on shuttles from Pentagon City home to Alexandria. He found a line so long it took him almost an hour to get up to the street level.
Metro blamed the mess on the rain and heavy Veterans Day weekend airport traffic. But as he faced a summer of taking shuttles from Huntington into Washington, Atallah said via email, “I’m dreading the platform project shutdown.”
“WMATA’s performance in the past with the use of shuttles when stations have been down before hasn’t be great,” he said. "We’ll see how it goes this time.”
In an interview, Alexandria transportation director Yon Lambert said the express shuttles, more people working from home, and people finding other ways to get around should siphon off enough riders that the local shuttles won’t be too full.
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, at a press conference last Wednesday in front of the Braddock Road station, acknowledged that there may be some problems this week.
“It takes a week for people to adjust, for us to adjust,” he said. “But soon after that, it gets to a rhythm that people can live through.”
The shutdown is expected to run until Sept. 8, but Wiedefeld left open the possibility that bad weather or other surprises could extend it. He said that even after the stations are open, there will still be construction work going on.
On a Yellow Line train, a woman named Megan, who was heading home to U Street from her job as a financial planner near the King Street station, was also anxious about what was to come.
She said she’d be on a shuttle Tuesday — the first workday after Memorial Day — but didn’t know what to expect. She hoped that biking 11 miles each way to and from work through the hot humid summer wouldn’t seem like a better choice.
A man named Tom, who’d been a dad for 13 weeks, was on another Yellow Line train headed the other way, toward his home.
He was anxious to get there. No doubt his wife was anxious for him to get home, too.
He knew he’d be home later until his baby is almost 30 weeks old, but just not how much later.
“I guess it’s wait and see,” he said.