D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau talks about her proposed legislation, from changing how sugary drinks are taxed to making diaper changing tables more accessible to men. Then, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson joins us to talk about the city's proposed budget and a local government exchange program with Norton, Virginia.
The WMATA Summer Platform Improvement Project, which begins on May 25, will shut down all of the stations on the Blue and Yellow Lines south of Reagan National Airport for infrastructure repairs and upgrades.
That means riders won’t be able to access Braddock Road, Van Dorn Street, Franconia-Springfield, Eisenhower Avenue, Huntington and King Street-Old Town stations in Alexandria, Virginia.
This summer shutdown is part of a three-year capital program that will repair 20 outdoor station platforms by September 2021, with the cost coming in between $300-$400 million for WMATA. Metro says that the complete station closures and service shutdown are necessary to get the work done in a timely manner; otherwise the repairs would take more than 30 years to complete.
WMATA and Alexandria city officials have rolled out several alternatives for riders who would normally use these stations on their daily commutes — including shuttle buses and free parking at most of the closed stations. But whether commuters will use these alternatives and what their choices will mean for the rush hour commute, remains to be seen.
Need help navigating Metro’s summer shutdown?
WMATA’s trip planning tool provides details about the shuttle buses and other alternatives. For specific trip planning questions and assistance, commuters can also call 703-746-3274.
Fairfax County’s website provides information on park-and-ride facilities with bus connections and carpooling options. You can also sign up for alerts and notifications.
Call the City of Alexandria’s customer service center at 703-746-HELP (4357).
The DASH bus customer service center is also ready to help. Call 703-746-DASH (3274).
WMATA employees will be on hand at the affected stations during the shutdown to provide assistance.
Produced by Monna Kashfi
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast Elizabeth Acevedo has a new novel. She joins us to talk about it. It's called "With the Fire on High."
KOJO NNAMDIBut first beginning this weekend the six Blue and Yellow Line Metro stations south of Reagan National Airport will be closed until September while crews make major repairs to the outdoor platforms at these stations. Metro says that the complete station closures and service shutdown the transit agency's largest round the clock shutdown ever are necessary to get the work done in a timely manner. Otherwise the repairs would take more than 30 years to complete.
KOJO NNAMDIWMATA and Alexandria city officials have rolled out several alternatives for riders who would normally use these stations on their daily commutes. You can see some of those resources at our website, kojoshow.org. But are riders willing to use them? And what will all of this mean for the already congested rush hour commute in northern Virginia? Joining me in studio is Yon Lambert, Director of Transportation and Environmental Services for the city of Alexandria. Yon Lambert, thank you for joining us.
YON LAMBERTHi, Kojo. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIStarting May 25th and all the way through the summer until September 8th riders will not be able to access the Braddock Road, Van Dorn Street, Franconia-Springfield, Eisenhower Avenue, Huntington and King Street-Old Town stations on Metro's Blue and Yellow Lines. How many riders are going to be affected by this shutdown?
LAMBERTThat's a great question, Kojo. This is certainly going to be a shock to the system for us when this starts next week. But I think what we really want to emphasize right now is that there's still time for people to make a plan for how they're going to be moving around this summer. There are lots of opportunities we've put in place to be able to do that. But what we need people to be aware of is they're going to need to have some patience this summer. And we need for them to add about 30 minutes to their normal commute.
LAMBERTTypically during a normal peak period in the morning there's about 17,000 people that pass through Metro and those six stations. So that's when we have built our mitigation plan we have built that plan looking at how many people will use the system during the peak period. If you want to break that down even a little bit further, we know that during the peak hour of a weekday there are about 6300 people that ride Metro during that time period.
LAMBERTSo that's really from 7:30 A.M. to 8:30 A.M., there's about 6,300 people that are normally on Metro Rail. And with the series of mitigation options that we've put together with WMATA and then all of the different options that the city has also put together we know that we've got planned capacity for people. When you were talking about really at the peak of the peak, we've got capacity for 97 percent of that ridership. And it's important to note that that capacity is -- it includes the shuttles themselves. There are now five free local and express shuttles. And then there are also a whole series of improvements and enhancements on bus routes throughout the area.
NNAMDIWhat exactly is WMATA planning to accomplish during this shutdown?
LAMBERTSo the main work that they're doing is rebuilding the outdoor concrete platforms and if you have seen photos of that platform you can see that over the last 40 years they have significantly deteriorated. So they've got to do extensive concrete work. They're also doing work on the rails themselves. And they're making improvements within the station. So it's going to be really an entire overhaul for all of our stations, which we think is needed. The city from the beginning has been strongly supportive of the investments WMATA is making in the system. We want to see them get back to a state of good repair. And we're excited for what the outcome will be at these stations when this work is completed.
NNAMDIYou mentioned this already. You've worked closely with WMATA to come up with alternatives for commuters who use these stations. Tell us a little more about the travel options that people will have during the shutdown.
LAMBERTSure. So maybe we can just start with simply with the five free shuttles that WMATA is offering. So there will be two shuttles that will be running express routes from the two end of the line stations. That's Huntington and Franconia-Springfield. They'll be running actually on the shoulder of 495 and then using the hot lanes on 395 to get to the Pentagon. Those will be very convenient options for people that are accessing the system from those end of line stations. There is a new free shuttle that will be running from Landmark Mall to the Pentagon. That will be an option for people who live on the west end of Alexandria who maybe typically use other types of bus or rail to get into downtown.
LAMBERTBut the city will have a 200 space free carpool and vanpool parking lot established at the Landmark Mall Transit Center that people will be able to use and access that express shuttle and then the final two free shuttles that will be running. There is a Blue Line shuttle that will essentially mimic the route of the Blue Line and that will run from Franconia-Springfield up to Van Dorn through Alexandria and will terminate actually in National Airport. And then a Yellow Line shuttle that will run from Huntington, again, through Alexandria and terminating at Crystal City.
NNAMDIWhat about other regional rail systems like VRE or Amtrak? How will those be affected?
LAMBERTVRE and Amtrak are both planning for this. And there will be options for people to purchase step up tickets to transition between Amtrak and VRE. There are also another -- a number of other opportunities that people will have. I just mentioned the free shuttles. But if you look at actually the bus routes that are being impacted here, we're making enhancements during peak periods or either midday service enhancements on routes including the 8Z, the 10A, the 10E, and the 21A.
LAMBERTThe 11Y, which is a bus route that will run from Old Town Alexandria into Potomac Park will be a very convenient option for people that need to get between downtown D.C. and Old Town. And then Metroway, of course, which runs limited stop service between Braddock Road and Pentagon City. That service actually -- one of the benefits of riding on Metroway is that it'll be running in dedicated lanes in Alexandria and Arlington and we have recently implemented transit signal priority along that corridor, so that those buses will stay on time.
NNAMDIThe expert analysis seems to be that commuters will be looking at an additional 30 minutes added to their commute each way with any of these alternatives that you've mentioned. Is that a pretty accurate assessment?
LAMBERTWe think that that's fair. I think anytime that you take a major spine out of a transportation network that moves as many people as Metro Rail does on a daily basis we know that it's going to have significant effects on the entire system. We've been planning for that. And that's one of the reasons why we're asking people to be patient and make a plan now. But we know that with all the options that we've got in place there are going to be some really nice options also to get to downtown. Including -- I'm sure we'll talk at some point this morning about the water taxi.
NNAMDIIndeed we will talk about the water taxi. We're also joined in studio by Kery Murakami. Kery Murakami writes the D.C. Rider Column for The Washington Post Express. Kery, thank you for joining us.
KERY MURAKAMISure. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIYou've been talking to riders about the upcoming shutdown. What have they told you? What are their main concerns?
MURAKAMII have. I was riding around yesterday all day just talking to people. And I think, you know, I think people are apprehensive. You know, it's kind of like knowing that you have a dentist appointment next week and you know it's not going to be fun. But you don't know like how bad it's going to be. You know, I talked to a couple of people who were just like pretty stoic about it. You know, they're saying, well, you know, there's not much I can do. So I'm just going to, you know, just not worry about it.
MURAKAMIBut most people are just worried about, you know, like whether the shuttle is going to work out. Well, I was talking to one guy at Braddock Road. You know, and he was saying like, you know, that station is going to be like the last one -- or one of the last stops, you know, heading in to D.C. So the shuttle is probably be packed. And the shuttles are supposed to come every five minutes. But, you know, is he going to have to like wait for five shuttles before he can get onto one because it might be so crowded and so how is that going to work. And, yeah, I mean, I think people just don't really know what's going to happen. You know, and they're just kind of hoping for the best.
NNAMDIIn general, were they going to be using the alternative transit options that are being offered?
MURAKAMIIt seemed like -- it seemed that way. Like I talked to a lot of people who, you know, work for employers who are being pretty flexible in terms of letting them work at home. And I think a lot of people were talking about doing that. But if you don't have the option, I think a lot of people were talking about trying the shuttle and, you know, seeing how well that works or how bad it is. And if it's, you know, if it's too bad maybe they'll work at home or maybe they'll try, you know, biking or, you know, water taxi or something else. You know, I think they'll try the shuttle first just to see how well that works.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here's Phil in Clifton. Phil, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PHILYeah, hi, Kojo. You know, I think this is unconscionable. I mean, are these people dinkering around at Metro. What other major city closes this many stations especially during the summer time when there are outsiders, vacationers coming in to the city. I mean, I live in Northern Virginia. I don't go into town very often, but when I do it's on the weekend. And I just think it is unprofessional and unconscionable that you people are closing all those stations in Northern Virginia south of National Airport. And I'll listen off the air.
NNAMDIYon Lambert, does this ever happen in another major city?
LAMBERTWell, certainly other major cities are going through significant reinvestment in their transit systems, but also in their road and highway system. This is something, you know, we understand riders' apprehension. We understand the levels of anxiety that are in place right now. We know that this is going to be significant impact for people not only day to day commuters, but visitors who come to Alexandria. And very importantly to us and to our City Council to businesses that operate in Alexandria and that rely on those visitors that come every day. And that's why we've made such significant investments in these alternative transportation options. And that's why we have put together such a robust plan in place.
NNAMDISusan asks via email, "I had heard an alternative was the water taxi. They advertise more ferries being added for the morning commute, but they haven't said anything about extra rides for the afternoon rush hour. Maybe we can get to work, but how do we get home?" Yon Lambert, the water taxi.
LAMBERTSo that's a great question. I think one of the benefits of being in Alexandria is that we do have access to the river. The city has long used the river for commercial reasons. We certainly see the river as a potential transportation option. But we have approached it, I would say fairly cautiously over the year because there is concern about shore side impacts. And we have been a little careful, because we want to make sure that we don't overwhelm Old Town, which is already can be a challenging place to find parking. We don't want a bunch of people coming to Old Town and parking.
LAMBERTBut that said, the Potomac River Boat Company has been working very hard to provide new trips. The city has been working with them. There will now be six trips in morning beginning at 6:40 A.M. Those trips take about 30 minutes and they will run between Alexandria and the Wharf. Those trips will continue throughout the day. The last trip, I think returns home to Alexandria at around 8:40 at night. It's a quick five minute shuttle from the terminus at the Wharf to L'Enfant Plaza. And most attractive, I think, about this option is that the city is able -- because we have worked with our partners at the State Department of Rail and Public Transportation System, we are going to be able to offset the costs for the water taxis.
LAMBERTSo normally it's $199 for a summer long commuter pass with reimbursement from the city. The city can actually get $100 off. So that summer pass is actually only $99. And then single trips, which are normally $10 one way, the city will be able to reimburse riders $8. So those trips will be only $2. So that's -- again, it's a little bit longer of a trip, 30 minutes, but it's very pleasant and will be less expensive.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about Metro's summer shutdown of six stations with Yon Lambert, Director of Transportation and Environmental Services for the City of Alexandria. And Kery Murakami who writes the D.C. Rider Column for The Washington Post Express. Kery, what do you think will be the biggest challenge commuters will face during the shutdown?
MURAKAMIJust trying to figure out what option works for them, you know, there's lots of different choices it sounds like, but I think it's going to be a lot of trial and error. And, you know, if the shuttle doesn't -- turns out to be too slow or really crowded then what are you going to do? I mean, you have to go to work somehow. And so you'll probably try different things and try to like figure out, what would -- works out best for you.
NNAMDID.C. uplink tweets, "Will there ever be plans to put in rail or Metro options between Woodbridge and Springfield?"
LAMBERTI know that certainly Fairfax County is looking at additional options. One of the things that the county is really making significant investments in right now is bus rapid transit along the Richmond Highway Corridor. That is a corridor that the county has identified as a primary growth area and where it tends to make future transit investments.
NNAMDIThis won't just affect people who take Metro. What is the shutdown going to mean for traffic since many people who currently take Metro will choose to drive instead in the shuttle buses will be added vehicles to already very congested roadways.
LAMBERTYeah. That's a great question. I think one of the big outstanding questions that's driving a lot of folks' anxiety going in to next week. I think the city's approach here has been to make sure that the investments that we're making into preparing for the shutdown have been primarily focused on ensuring that the shuttle buses themselves can run as quickly as possible. And we want those runtimes to be short, but we also acknowledge, of course, that there will be people that turn to driving that are going to have to drive over the summer.
LAMBERTAnd some of the ways that we are helping them is that we are putting a number of different signal changes in place throughout the city. We're making a lot of tackle improvements all around the city. Most of those, again, are focused on ensuring that the shuttles themselves can get through the city where they need to go. But the city is also adding a number of different traffic cameras. We will be monitoring traffic signals throughout the entire shutdown.
LAMBERTWe will be able to make quick changes to many of our traffic signals to ensure that when backups are occurring that we are addressing them. We also have a number of options that will be in place during the peak periods that will ensure that we have solid incident management in place. So have teams that will be stationed and on standby. And we'll be able to assist drivers if they get into trouble or there are bus breakdowns, which is really important.
NNAMDIHere's Rainy in Alexandria. Rainy, your turn.
RAINYOh, thank you, Kojo. Yes. I just wanted to ask if Metro is kind of staggering those shuttles. In other words, I heard another caller, who was concerned that the shuttles will be filled, you know, once they get to Braddock Metro. And I'm wondering if they're going to try to start some of the shuttles with empty shuttles at places that kind of get the rot of the stick when it comes to these type of, you know, changes. Thanks.
LAMBERTSure. Again, the shuttles will be running in frequencies of every five minutes during peak periods and every ten minutes during off peak periods. Now that said one of the benefits -- because we have five different shuttles in place you have riders that will be accessing the system at those end of line stations like Huntington and Franconia-Springfield that will be access the shuttles and divert entirely around the city and get straight to the Pentagon. That's where we have lots of ridership and lots of riders accessing the system. The local shuttles are the ones that are intended to go in between the stations themselves. Mimic the actual Blue and Yellows Lines. And those are the ones where that frequency is going to be so important so that there is space on those shuttles.
NNAMDIThis isn't just about more commuters on the road. Metro has said that more than 700 crew members and other WMATA employees will need to get to the closed stations every day to actually do this repair work. Are there any plans for trying to accommodate these additional commuters in the area?
LAMBERTYes. Metro has been working with its contractor and its employees to ensure that its employees are all parking at designated lots. They will have two shifts of 700 employees per shift for every -- each 24 hour period. And Metro is actually instructing its contractor and those employees to park either adjacent to the Eisenhower Metro Station or in the garage at Huntington. From those locations they'll be shuttled into each of the work sites. One benefit to the city and to Fairfax County is that each worksite itself will be self-sustaining. So there's not going to be equipment or materials going in between the sites. They're going to be self-contained. And once the workers get there they will be onsite for the duration of the work that they have to do during that period.
NNAMDIKery Murakami, the shutdown is not going to only affect rush hour commuters. You've also talked about the unintended consequences. Tell us about that.
MURAKAMIYeah. I mean, like the emphasis is on commuters, which is where it should be. But people take Metro for all sorts of different reasons. Like I did a story a couple of weeks ago, there's this lady who lives in Old Town and she really loves Chick-fil-a. You know, and she just doesn't have a car, and like the best option for her has been to like take the Metro to Reagan to the airport to get her chicken nuggets. You know, and so she was pretty sad that, you know, during this shutdown, you know, she'll be kept from getting her Chick-fil-a. I mean, there's -- I was talking to this guy yesterday who's retired and he's worried about, you know, like in his retirement he goes to D.C. a lot to like see his friends, you know, see the doctor. I mean, so there's all sorts of trips like that this is going to affect too.
NNAMDIWell, here's this. Alison tweets, "I used to live in Old Town and come back for business. I'll be back in D.C. during the station work and I'm sorry to say I won't be staying in Old Town and supporting the local businesses that I love to visit there. Two weeks of safe track work was bad enough. I can't imagine this." How will it affect businesses in that area?
MURAKAMIYeah. The businesses are very concerned too. Like I was at Theismann's yesterday in Old Town, and there was this regular customer there who apparently goes there pretty often. And she lives in Huntington and she takes the Metro to go to the restaurant. And she was saying her goodbyes for the summer, because she won't be back until afterwards. And, you know, there's -- the hotels are really concerned about drop off in business. In fact, they did a study that showed this, you know, pretty significant decrease.
MURAKAMIYou know, I mean, this stuff really affects a lot of people, like if you're -- in the way the service industry works. I mean, if there's fewer customers then you have your hours cut back. So if you're, you know, a bartender or if you clean hotel rooms then you're looking at not only a tougher commute, but maybe, you know, less work and less pay. And so there's, you know, a whole lot of impacts that this is going to have.
LAMBERTAnd so quickly, one thing I would add is that in Alexandria, we actually have been working closely with visit Alexandria. They have put together a package, hotels are, of course, wanting to make sure that they're still letting people know that we're open for business and there will be ways to get around. The Kings Street Trolley will continue to run. It's actually going to be running both earlier and later. But Visit Alexandria has a "Love Your Summer" hotel package that will provide reduced rates at some of our hotels and then several nights of free parking. And then also discounted water taxi passes.
NNAMDIHere's Phillip in Silver Spring, Maryland. Phillip, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PHILLIPYeah. When Metro was first built, did they anticipate that they were going to have maintenance problems? And would they like to if they had had the money build extra track? I know there was a lot of talk about another tunnel to Virginia.
NNAMDIYeah. We've talked about the lack of an extra track before. An anonymous caller also wants to know, "Why do they have to shut down all the stations at once? Why couldn't they do it one at a time?" Kery, The Washington Post recently conducted a poll that showed that 68 percent of Washington area residents rate Metro Rail positively. That's up quite a bit from 42 percent back in 2017. But do you think most riders are understanding about why this shutdown is necessary?
MURAKAMIYeah. I think most people get that the work is necessary, but I don't think they're giving Metro a gold star, because I think their impression is that, you know, they haven't kept up the system very well over the years. And, you know, and maybe things should not have gone to this point. So yeah, I mean, I think they've seen the pictures. They think the work needs to be done, but I think in part they kind of blame Metro for letting things get to this point.
NNAMDIHow about other solutions? Here is Caleigh in Woodbridge. Caleigh, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CALEIGHHi. So if people are planning to drive, please swing by Franconia-Springfield Landmark Mall and the Dunn Loring, pickup riders to D.C. Most of the shuttles are focused on going to the Pentagon, nothing to go into D.C. Is there any reason why it was chosen like that? And again, if any is planning to drive please swing by these three stations and pickup slugs so that you can go on HOV lanes.
NNAMDIYes. We've done shows on slugging.
LAMBERTAgain, another good question, essentially we're focusing on getting riders reconnected with Metro Rail as soon as we possibly can. Obviously, D.C. is also very congested for drivers. We don't want to send a whole another large slug of cars into the District. If we can get drivers to use the free parking that's going to be available at the end of the line stations or Landmark Mall and to use those express shuttles, we'll be able to get a large number of people in on a smaller number of vehicles.
NNAMDISabrina in Alexandria, Virginia you're on the air. Sabrina, go ahead, please.
SABRINAThank you, Kojo. I was wondering about National Airport. They've been doing some construction there in some of the lanes getting in and out, dropping off, picking up passengers has been shutdown.
NNAMDIIs there ever not construction at National Airport? But go ahead, please. Please, go ahead.
SABRINAYeah. I was just curious if the Metro shutdown is expected to make that problem worse or if there's some coordination between the construction at National and what's going to be happening with the Metro?
LAMBERTYes. So we have been coordinating very closely with the Metropolitan Washington Airport's Authority. We actually met with staff from their emergency operations team last week. We have close communication with them. They are aware that the Blue Line shuttle will be coming in. Over the weekend of May 4th and 5th when we actually did a dry run of the shuttle we were watching closely how the shuttles came in and out of the airport.
LAMBERTThe challenge, of course, with the airport is that there can be peak periods in there for any number of reasons. It just can be in the way the flights come in, but we're going to be closely monitoring. We have very open lines of communication. The airport is cognizant of the work that we're doing and we know that we need to get shuttles in and out of the airport to make the overall system work.
NNAMDIAnd finally, here's Janice in Alexandria, Virginia. Janice, your turn.
JANICEYeah, hi. A couple of questions. What are you going to do to stop all of the Metro workers from parking in the neighborhoods? Let me give you all my several questions. And the frequency of service when it's non-rush hour, weekend, evening, or afternoon --
NNAMDIThose two questions we can handle. We don't have time for any more. Go ahead, please.
LAMBERTSo the Alexandria Police Department is already aware of construction worker parking. So is staff from my department. We will actually be monitoring near the stations themselves ensuring that the workers are parking at the designated lots. You can actually go to the city's website, alexandriava.gov, and actually to see there. There are trip planning tools as well as all the frequency of the lines and the shuttles.
NNAMDIYou can also go to resources for riders at our website, kojoshow.org. Shuttles on the weekend and midday too or just during rush hour?
LAMBERTYes. There will be shuttles on weekends. The Landmark Mall, for instance, shuttle is a weekday shuttle. Again, I would encourage people to go to the city's website to get access to the trip planning tools so they can actually make the right plans for their own trip.
NNAMDIYon Lambert is the Director of Transportation and Environmental Services for the City of Alexandria. Yon, thank you for joining us.
LAMBERTThank you so much for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIKery Murakami writes the D.C. Rider Column for The Washington Post Express. Kery, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIGoing to take a short break. When we come back, D.C. based author, Elizabeth Acevedo has a new novel. She joins us to talk about it. It's called, "With the Fire on High." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
The Virginia tribe is taking a stand against the James River Water Authority, which is planning to build a water pumping station at the site of the tribe's long-lost capital.
The UFCW union representing the region's nearly 26,000 Giant and Safeway workers have been in contract negotiations for the past six months. And Safeway workers will soon vote to strike.
I guarantee this high school senior's a better driver than you.