The racket rattling living room walls near Metro stops south of Reagan National is adding to the challenges facing thousands of Virginians struggling with the Metro summer shutdown.
It turns out Metro does not have to follow most of the usual local noise regulations.
“It’s been pretty awful,” Debra Bell said.
Bell is a regular Metro commuter who has lived just above the Metro tracks across the street from the Huntington Station for the last 10 years. Bell hopes Metro limits loud work to reasonable hours.
“There’s just no way I’d be able to survive this whole summer, just, you know, jackhammering right outside my window at one in the morning. Even with the windows closed, it just sounds like they’re jackhammering in your bedroom,” she said.
Bell and her angry neighbors thought they had found a way to stop the noise when they read a noise ordinance waiver Fairfax County provided to Metro’s construction contractor, Kiewitt. The ordinance appeared to prohibit jackhammering, saw-cutting and sand blasting after 10 p.m.
However, Fairfax County told WTOP the waiver only applies to noise that would otherwise be restricted by the county’s noise ordinance, and Metro has a blanket exception to those noise rules for any railroad track maintenance.
The waiver simply gave Kiewitt permission to do an hour extra of noisy work each morning and evening in the station itself on things such as the Kiss & Ride area, the county said.
The most disruptive sound Bell heard — which she recorded from inside of her apartment — was along the tracks outside the station. It is the kind of work Metro can do at any time.
“We just figured there’s no way that they can be allowed to do that,” Bell said.
People in her building called police, but were told there was no noise ordinance violation.
“Under the county’s noise ordinance, rail track maintenance work is exempt from the noise regulations. This means that Metro’s track work that occurs outside of the station may occur anytime without restriction, including jack hammering, excavation and other maintenance activities,” a new Fairfax County fact sheet said.
The noise and bright lights that carry into the building have led to crying babies, shaken pets and sleepless nights, just as it did last Friday night.
“They were jackhammering until 1 a.m., then they started up again at 7 a.m. Saturday. Basically we had about six hours of silence. That’s just not OK,” Bell said.
People near the Metro tracks in Alexandria have similar concerns about noise from construction and buses. Alexandria’s noise ordinance also does not apply to track work. State law prohibits noise ordinance violation fines for railroads.
Metro has said permitting 24/7 work can help finish projects more quickly. Some jackhammering at stations may be focused in the earlier parts of construction, since it is mainly demolition work.
The update I received from WMATA: “We spoke with our contractor and confirmed that the noisy activities at Braddock Road (sawcutting and jackhammering) are going to be conducted early in the project schedule.”
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) June 3, 2019
In addition to platform repairs, Metro is making other improvements at the six closed stations and doing track work over the course of the summer.
Alexandria has directed any complaints about noise to Metro’s customer comment form.
“I would just want to say to Metro, just remember that people live here and we’re trying to sleep, and we have infants, we have pets, we have lives to lead … try to be respectful,” Bell said.
She is still commuting to work during the closure via Metro three days a week, while teleworking the other two days to avoid the commute.
“It’s just confusing. You just see lines of people and hope you’re getting on the right bus,” Bell said.
The buses have been slowed by traffic, and the Pentagon platform has been packed.
“Fortunately, my boss is also dealing with this so she doesn’t get mad if I’m late,” Bell said.
Huntington, Eisenhower Avenue, Franconia-Springfield, Van Dorn Street, King Street and Braddock Road are currently scheduled to reopen Sept. 9, although the Blue Line is scheduled to have round-the-clock single-tracking when train service resumes.
Bell has commuted on Metro for the last decade, and she generally feels that things have gotten better over the last year.
“This is definitely the worst disruption we’ve had. There were times when I was constantly late due to just slowdowns, so if they can make it so that somehow we don’t have more slowdowns and shutdowns after this, I guess it will be worth it, but, I don’t know, I’m not very optimistic,” Bell said.