A week after D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) sent a letter to Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld asking for special accommodations for the city in his SafeTrack plan, the massive rebuilding project is proceeding as planned.
Metro will continue with plans to end late-night service — shutting down at midnight instead of 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. And, there will be no early openings or late closings for special events during the duration of the yearlong project, the agency said. Those were among the changes Bowser asked be reconsidered in a five-page letter to Metro last week, saying the restrictions would be particularly hard on “the late night riders and nighttime workers who support and sustain the District’s economy.”
Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans said this week the option to reconsider them was not on the table.
“As I can only say to the bars, restaurants, hotels: we will close at midnight,” said Evans, who also is a D.C. Council member. “There is no option to not close at midnight. And we will work with everybody to try and figure out how we can provide, if possible, some alternative transportation methods.”
The maintenance push, set to launch Saturday with 13 days of continuous single-tracking between East Falls Church and Ballston, has already been vetted and approved by the Federal Transit Administration, which was given oversight of Metro safety last year after a deadly smoke incident, and it addresses concerns raised by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Bowser’s letter had asked that Metro instead consider rotating the midnight closures so they occurred on only one or two line segments at a time — on a rotating two-month basis. It also asked Metro to accommodate 11 special events in the District.
At a Thursday news conference on the planned service disruptions, Bowser said her request was made in the interest of moving traffic and reducing the impact on people in the region. But she did not say whether the District would continue its push for her changes. Much of the letter contained questions and requests for data from Metro –where do trips typically begin and end for each station slated for closure? Where are the maps showing routes for Metro “bus bridges” that are supposed to carry some passengers between closed stations?
“My job is to make sure that the plan has been fully vetted and every consideration has been made, and we continue to want to make sure that we can move traffic,” Bowser said. “When we have large events, we have a lot of cars, we have people from all over and we need to be able to move people. So we think that the general manager of Metro is in the best position to push a plan, advance a plan and we’re going to hold him accountable for getting the work done.”
Evans (D) applauded the mayor for making the case on behalf of the city — many of the affected hotels, bars and restaurants are in his own Ward 2 district — but said accommodating requests for operational changes would threaten the success of SafeTrack.
“I think every jurisdiction, including the District, is raising issues with events, etc. that they have, that they would prefer not to have them disrupted,” Evans said. “As [Wiedefeld] said, ‘if I start accommodating one, we’re going to be back to where we started. And we’re never gonna get this done.’ So, this is my plan, as he said, and we’re sticking with it.”
He said he was “keenly aware of the disruption that is going to occur,” but hoped alternative transportation modes would fill the void for commuters.
Asked repeatedly whether the District was continuing to press Metro to reexamine its SafeTrack schedule, Bowser did not answer directly, saying only that the District stood behind Wiedefeld’s plan. After Metro’s unprecedented one-day shutdown in March, Bowser complained that she was not fully consulted and issued a statement warning of the serious impact of any extended shutdown in the ensuing weeks.
Metro said some of the suggestions made by the mayor were already part of the plan — including deploying Metro Transit Police to shuttle bus locations. Another one of her recommendations, identifying a point of contact for D.C. police to consult on emergency management of rush-hour activity “is not a problem,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.
District Department of Transportation Director Leif Dormsjo, who also is a Metro board member, said the Metro had conveyed to city officials that key operational changes to the SafeTrack plan could not be made so close to the program’s launch.
“Would we still like for this to be requested down the road?” he asked. “Of course.”