Red Line commuters, you have been warned: On Saturday, Metro launched a 45-day shutdown between Fort Totten and NoMa stations, one of the biggest disruptions to the system since the conclusion of the SafeTrack maintenance project last year.
Through Sept. 3, trains will not pass through Brookland and Rhode Island Avenue stations. Instead, riders will be ferried by shuttles that will be using a temporary bus-only lane on Rhode Island Avenue. The shutdown is expected to cause significant delays for commuters on the northeast end of the Red Line.
Metro officials are also encouraging riders to switch to the Green and Yellow lines for the duration of the shutdown — there will be additional trains running on those lines — and to consider using alternative bus routes instead of, or in addition to, the Red Line.
As Metro staff and local transportation officials sound the alarm about the impending disruption, they’re hoping that Red Line riders’ experience during a similar fall 2016 SafeTrack maintenance project will serve as an asset this time around.
“My experience with this is that nobody focuses on this until it happens. And then when it happens, it’s like, ‘Why didn’t I know about it?’ ” said Jack Evans, chair of the Metro board, as he considered the commuting chaos that may come on Monday. “We will do as much as we can to relieve the inconvenience that’s going to happen.”
Riders may recall this same stretch of the Red Line already went through an extended shutdown nearly two years ago. During the 10th SafeTrack surge in 2016, the tracks between Fort Totten and NoMa were closed for 25 days. The purpose of that shutdown was to install thousands of feet of new tracks, rehabilitate the degraded double crossover where tracks intersect, and repair or replace fraying electrical cables.
At the same time, workers had conducted stopgap repairs at Rhode Island Avenue station, the oldest in Metro’s system (evidenced by the pieces of concrete that had begun to crumble off the edifice).
The purpose of the latest shutdown is for a structural overhaul of that station, as well as Brookland. The platforms will be rebuilt. Structures will be demolished. Concrete will be repoured. And the station is expected to be more accessible for people with disabilities, who have raised concerns for years that the large step between the platform edge and the trains poses a safety risk.
That level of construction requires that trains not pass on the adjacent tracks, Metro said.
“Yes, it will be inconvenient, and people will not be happy about it,” Evans said. “But as I’ve said from the day I started this job — fixing this system is going to take a long time, and SafeTrack is not the end. . . . We have a long way to go.”
In the meantime, Metro officials hope most riders will use Green and Yellow line trains between Fort Totten and Gallery Place to make their way between Northeast Washington and the heart of the District.
But Metro is also running three shuttle bus lines for commuters who typically start or end their commutes at Brookland or Rhode Island stations.
One runs from Brookland, down North Capitol Street, to Union Station. A second shuttle stops at Brookland and Rhode Island stations, before continuing to Gallery Place. These shuttles both will run only during weekday rush hour, Monday through Friday, from 5 until 9:30 a.m. and from 3 to 7 p.m.
Metro has a third shuttle route that will stop sequentially at all the affected stations, seven days a week, ping-ponging back and forth between Fort Totten and NoMa, with stops at the Brookland and Rhode Island stations along the way.
Additionally, the G9 “MetroExtra” bus — which typically only runs during weekday rush hour — will provide service during all hours the Metrorail system is open. That route starts at the northeast border of Washington, runs along Rhode Island Avenue, passes Shaw-Howard University station, turns south at Logan Circle and reverses direction at McPherson Square.
The temporary bus lane along Rhode Island Avenue, between North Capitol Street and 12th Street NE, is designated for the exclusive use of Metro’s shuttle system and other priority buses. DDOT officials have said the lane will be marked with signs and pavement paint and that private vehicles will be barred from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Sunday.
“Mayor Bowser and I want to make sure that transit riders, motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists can still navigate the streets safely and with minimal interruption to their commutes,” District Department of Transportation Director Jeff Marootian said in a statement. “These are temporary actions that we believe will go a long way to keep everyone safe and moving toward their destinations.”
People who live or work along the affected stretch of the Red Line may also find refuge on other existing bus routes, particularly the MetroExtra buses. Silver Spring residents commuting downtown should consider using the 79, which runs along Georgia Avenue to Gallery Place and Archives stations, or the S9 running along 16th Street to Franklin Square.
Takoma residents may want to opt for the 59 MetroExtra, which runs down 14th Street to Metro Center, or the 52 or 54 buses that make more frequent stops on a similar route.
And would-be riders who intend to forgo public transit and drive to work for the duration of the shutdown: Beware. DDOT is anticipating a significant increase in traffic because of the influx of shuttle buses, as well as the decreased car capacity on Rhode Island Avenue because of the temporary bus lane.
Additionally, Metro says, expect extremely limited parking capacity at the Rhode Island station.
Even those whose commutes are not interrupted by the closures will probably notice a slowdown on their usual route. On the western end of the Red Line, from Shady Grove to NoMa, trains will be operating every six minutes during peak periods — slightly down from the usual four-minute headways during rush hour.
On the other side of the line, from Glenmont to Fort Totten, there will be a 10-minute wait between Red Line trains during rush hour.
But that’s not the worst of it. Next weekend, on July 28 and 29, the shutdown will extend north to Silver Spring station, with no Red Line service at Takoma or Fort Totten stations.
The good news? Green and Yellow Line trains will still pick up and drop off passengers at Fort Totten for the duration of that weekend’s expanded work zone.