Metro shutdown making for an unusual commute

WASHINGTON — The Metrorail shutdown is making for an unusual commute in the early hours of Wednesday, as the lack of service is forcing some people onto the roads and inspiring others to stay home.

Metro tells WTOP’s Max Smith that they won’t have any updates until late afternoon on what inspectors have or haven’t found in their examination of underground jumper cables. One caught fire on Monday outside the McPherson Square station, causing single-tracking and major delays.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, in announcing the shutdown Tuesday, said that the cable problem bore enough similarities to the problems that caused the deadly smoke incident outside the L’Enfant Plaza station in January 2015, and had to take action.

“There’s no rhyme or reason to it,” says Jack Taylor, in the WTOP Traffic Center, of traffic conditions Wednesday morning.

Some commuters who usually take Metro are driving instead, leading to congestion, while others are staying home or teleworking, leaving the roads empty.

Federal offices, for example, are open in the D.C. area, but employees can take unscheduled leave or telework.

“Some people who usually take 45 minutes to get to work are telling me it’s taking 20,” Taylor said at about 6:45 a.m. “Others who usually take 15 have been sitting in traffic for 45 minutes, and they still aren’t there.”

He added that there wasn’t any pattern to the delays or the easy spots, saying it looks random.

Buses are filled to capacity at the Silver Spring Transit Center, WTOP’s Nick Iannelli reports. Many people who have never taken Metrobus are getting on board — after a quick check of the Metrorail turnstiles, just to make sure.

Buses were crowded at the Silver Spring transit center as commuters who would normally ride the rails switched over to the bus.

“I woke up earlier and I had to figure out the bus lines,” said Mindy Fries.

Fries, of Silver Spring, normally takes the Red Line to Judiciary Square, but Wednesday was a different story.

“I’m just figuring things out. … You gotta do what you gotta do,” she said.

Similarly, WTOP’s John Domen reports from the Pentagon station that a lot of first-time riders are getting on buses — after making sure they know the routes.

At Reagan National Airport, passengers are adjusting to the lack of Metrorail trains. One tells WTOP’s Kathy Stewart that she had planned to get to the airport around 6 a.m., but because of the shutdown, had to get there before midnight.

WTOP asked commuters to share on Facebook, Twitter and our Talkback line what they were seeing on their trips. Some of the responses:

  • Linda Wilkinson says on Facebook shortly before 8 a.m. that the HOV lanes on I-395 are “running well,” and that more cars than usual are picking up slugs in Springfield.
  • Kelly Ormsby says that at 6 a.m., “the traffic on 395 was already like it is by 7:30.”
  • Konnie Melia said at about 7:45 that “traffic was horrific” on a commuter bus from southern Maryland. “Took us 30 minutes longer than usual.”
  • Richard Rodgers says on Twitter that he saw “literally no traffic” from southern Maryland to Suitland – “fastest commute in a while,” while Diane Pollard said that her drive from Dumfries to Fort Belvoir took the usual amount of time. Conversely, Tam says of her trip on 295 north from Route 210, “grrrrrr.”

PARKING could be a problem with many cars heading into the District Wednesday morning, but some hunting might pay off: Around 23rd and M streets, in Northwest D.C., five parking garages were all full, WTOP’s Steve Drezner reports. A hotel parking attendant told him, however, that it’s possible to find hotel parking at a bargain rate.

American University announced shortly before 9 a.m. that parking on campus would be free to anyone with a university ID.

THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION announced early Wednesday that all their museums will open at noon, except the National Museum of American Art, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Zoo, which will open on time.

METRO GENERAL MANAGER Paul Wiedefeld announced the shutdown on Tuesday, saying that the agency needed to inspect underground electrical cables.

A cable caught fire outside the McPherson Square station on Monday, leading to single-tracking and major delays. On Tuesday, Wiedefeld said that the fire was similar to the problem that caused the deadly smoke incident outside L’Enfant Plaza in January 2015.

Metrorail generally carries more than 700,000 riders per day. Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans, a member of the D.C. Council says that it’s believed to be the first time that Metro has been shut down for mechanical reasons.

THE FAIRFAX CONNECTOR has added extra buses going directly to the Pentagon, and at a reduced price. A supervisor tells WTOP’s Neal Augenstein that a ride that usually costs $7.50 will on Wednesday cost $1.75.

IN MONTGOMERY COUNTY, where Metrorail is boarded 85,000 times a day, officials say that the Ride On service will add buses Wednesday.

All trains on MARC’s CAMDEN LINE will stop at Greenbelt on Wednesday, including those that don’t usually stop there.

IN ALEXANDRIA, the DASH bus will operate off-peak service from the Braddock Road Metro Station to the Pentagon Metro Station on the AT3 and AT4 routes from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in addition to regular weekday service.

IN THE DISTRICT, DDOT’s traffic management center opened at 4 a.m. to monitor traffic cameras around the city. If congestion gets bad at a particular spot, the timing of traffic signals can be adjusted to improve the flow.

Other changes planned in D.C. for Wednesday:

  • Traffic control officers are positioned at key locations;
  • Construction work will be suspended during morning and evening rush hours;
  • Residential street sweeping will be called off for the day.

Meanwhile, Uber is capping its surge pricing at 3.9 times the regular rate, and Uber Pools, which allow users to share rides, are being expanded to the entire area. First-time Uber users can get a $25 discount by entering the code METRODC.

The ride-sharing service Lyft is offering a $20 discount for new riders, with the code METRO HELP.

Metrobus will operate as normal, and additional buses will be provided for D.C. Public Schools. Students who are late or absent will be excused.

Also, parking will be free on Wednesday at all Metro-owned lots and garages for those taking the bus or carpooling.

WTOP has compiled a full list of transit alternatives.

WTOP’s Neal Augenstein, Nick Iannelli, Kathy Stewart and John Domen, and The Associated Press, contributed to this report.

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