As the Washington region moved from summer to fall, Metro’s new Silver Line continued to show good ridership numbers. In late September, the transit authority reported that the two-month-old line already was carrying 60 percent of the riders it anticipated having at the end of its first full year.
That means about 15,000 riders are entering Metrorail at the five new Silver Line stations on weekdays.
There might be a day when commuters take it for granted that they should be able to ride a subway train from one edge of the Washington region to another, just as riders today have little or no memory of the political struggles of the 1960s and ’70s that produced the original Metrorail system.
I got a letter from a Northern Virginian who hasn’t forgotten the era when the Silver Line was repeatedly declared dead, then resurrected by people who saw its potential to ease travel, build communities and enhance business opportunities.
He is the former executive director of the Landowners Economic Alliance for the Dulles Extension of Rail (LEADER), a group formed in Fairfax County to find money for the first half of the project, out to the Reston area.
He wants people to remember the struggle for that first part, and that the project won’t be done until it reaches Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
The most important thing for people to remember about the Silver Line is that its purpose from the very start of its planning was to connect downtown Washington to Dulles Airport and its environs.
The fact that the Silver Line project was cut into two phases had nothing to do with the objectives of landowners in the Tysons Corner area, but everything to do with the obstacles thrown into the path of the Silver Line by federal appropriators and bureaucrats, and the unwillingness of the local citizenry and their leaders to accept “no” for an answer.
When boosters of the concept first began pushing for the rail line as far back as the mid-1980s, there was never any consideration of doing anything short of going all the way to Dulles and beyond.
It was not until 2003, well into the planning and funding efforts for the project, that the Federal Transit Administration required Virginia to either divide the project into two phases, or give it up all together.
By that time, efforts to bring commercial landowners all along the proposed corridor in Fairfax County were well on their way, and only when the feds said “our way or no way,” did the project get divided, with the first phase going to Wiehle Avenue in Reston and the second phase expected to go through Dulles Airport to Ashburn in Loudoun County.
While it was a disappointment that the project could not get done in one phase, it is a testament to all parties concerned that a way was found to put a silver lining in what could have become a very ominous cloud over our region’s future.
Eric Peterson, Vienna
DG: Back in 2004, the cost estimate for the entire project was $3.4 billion. Now, it’s $5.6 billion, with the potential to go higher. It’s understandable why so many government officials and average citizens worried about the rising costs.
But it’s also worth noting that many civic and government leaders — including two U.S. transportation secretaries — worked together at various points to prevent the whole thing from collapsing.
Future commuters will thank them, if they can remember who they were.
Among the thankless jobs in transportation, rebuilding Metro’s escalators has to rank near the top. The transit authority is launching two projects this month to replace, rather than repair, escalators at busy stations.
Metro is taking different approaches on the two projects, but they have something in common: From the riders’ point of view, each will take an agonizingly long time to finish.
Just after Columbus Day, Metro plans to begin replacing the two escalators for the Metro Center entrance at 12th and G streets NW. Through spring, riders will need to use escalators at the station’s other three entrances.
Inconvenient as that detour might be for people using the downtown station, Metro said that by doing both escalators at once, the time for the project will be cut in half.
The biggest replacement project that got underway this month, one that will replace the three long escalators at the Bethesda station entrance, is going to take about 21 / 2 years.
Why so much time? This is the only escalator entrance at the station, so it can’t be shut down completely. Crews will have to disassemble and replace the three escalators one by one. And for safety, they will need to work only during overnight hours when the station is closed.
It was easier to build the things in the first place than to replace them.
The escalator replacement program is still relatively new. For years, the transit authority focused on repairing or rebuilding the aging equipment, but riders — and eventually Metro — realized that was a losing battle.
The new escalators for Metro Center will be the 26th and 27th replacements. So far, Metro has replaced escalators at Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle, Pentagon, Van Ness, Georgia Avenue-Petworth and Glenmont. More replacements are in progress at Columbia Heights, Glenmont, Bethesda, Friendship Heights and Georgia Avenue-Petworth.