WASHINGTON — Drivers in Northern Virginia experienced significant delays Tuesday morning – the second day that Metro repairs on the Orange and Silver lines significantly reduced train service.
Trains are sharing a single track between East Falls Church and Ballston leading many commuters to hit the road and drive instead of taking Metro, adding to the region’s normally congested highways. East-west highways in Virginia including Interstate 66, U.S. 50 and the Dulles Toll Road were especially slow.
“Drivers are doing some wacky things alternatively trying to get through Virginia,” said WTOP traffic reporter Jack Taylor.
For drivers, HOV restrictions in Virginia were still in place but some drivers didn’t agree with the limits.
“We were realizing throughout the morning that people were doing inane things like driving in HOV lanes that they weren’t supposed to be in, and driving up the shoulder in Virginia in order to get by,” Taylor said. “VDOT, lift those HOV restrictions if you can. It has not been pretty, that’s for sure,” he said.
One of the reasons for the delays, Taylor said, is the construction on Kutz Bridge that started last week. The bridge carries eastbound Independence Avenue traffic over the Tidal Basin and currently has two lanes closed for construction.
“The three-lane bridge since last week has had one lane going by, which doesn’t help I-66, (Route) 110, Arlington Boulevard or the (George Washington) Parkway, which of course would be alternates for people who ride the rails,” Taylor said.
Metro General Manager Wiedefeld said that ridership on the Orange Line west of Ballston was down 26 percent during the Monday morning drive.
But overall, ridership wasn’t far off from normal numbers according to Wiedefeld, who noted that 616,000 riders took Metro on Monday compared to 620,000 on an average Monday.
“I walked from Ballston to East Falls yesterday afternoon and literally every aspect of the rail system we were touching,” Wiedefeld said of the progress so far. “The crews have been working around the clock in 12-hour shifts. It’s a very hot and grueling job,” he said.
As of 8 a.m. Tuesday, Wiedefeld said delays between the Vienna and LeEnfant Plaza Metro stations were about 35 minutes once riders boarded a train.
While the trains are sharing a track for repairs, trains are expected to run every 18 minutes west of Ballston.
Overall, WTOP reporters riding the rails to get a feel for how the repairs are impacting the commute said that ridership has been fairly light.
“On one trip there was a 4-minute hold to allow the single tracking between East Falls Church and Ballston,” said WTOP’s Neal Augenstein. “Most who’ve gotten on the trains have been able to find seats. That doesn’t usually happen, so clearly volume had been lighter than usual,” he said.
Metro riders at the East Falls Church Station told WTOP’s Nick Iannelli that they waited 15 to 20 minutes for trains to arrive. One rider, who was late for work for the second day in a row, was considering other options. “I’m contemplating, should I just go ahead and drive to work?”
One rider told Iannelli that it took her three times longer to get home Monday than her average evening commute. Another called the trip home from D.C. “horrible.”