Metro: Bethesda elevators await inspection to reopen

Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir,Metro and Traffic

The elevators at Metro's Bethesda station remain shuttered after a long-delayed rehabilitation project -- even though the repair work is actually already finished.

The problem: Metro says it needs a state inspection to reopen them.

Now Metro's website calls for the two elevators to reopen Friday, after multiple missed deadlines from the original fall reopening dates. "The final step is the required state inspection, which we hope will be performed late this week," Metro spokesman Philip Stewart said.

The work was intended to give the two elevators their first major repairs since the station opened in 1984. Metro closed down the elevator to the street there in May, then closed the one from the platform to the fare gates in July. The work was supposed to be finished in October, though this summer the agency had said it could be done by late September.

However, the crews did not have a part on hand that they needed to finish the work, said another agency spokesman, Dan Stessel.

Then further complicating matters was a change to Maryland safety codes, which occurred after the contract had been awarded, Stessel said. The new law required Metro to add a monitoring tool to its intercom systems, a safety step to make sure the agency knew when the intercoms were working in case someone became trapped inside, he said. Metro does not need to retrofit all the elevators in its Maryland stations, he added, but does need to add the tool whenever it undertakes major work.

Metro could not immediately say how much the delays and additional work cost. At the very least, it has meant the agency has had to run extra on-demand shuttle service from the adjacent Medical Center station for riders who need elevator service, such as wheelchair users.

The extended closure has raised safety concerns because the escalators to the street frequently break down as well. The escalators are the second-longest in the Metro system at 212 feet, leaving riders with a lengthy hike. Metro plans to replace the three escalators that run to the street, but the work isn't scheduled to begin until 2014.

And even when the escalators are working, problems have occurred. In June, a mother was taken to the hospital after she fell as she took her twin boys up one of the escalators in a stroller, while the elevator was down.

Ben Ross, a longtime transit advocate with Montgomery County's Action Committee for Transit and a commuter at that station, questions the safety of keeping the elevators closed for any longer. He notes that the elevators are constantly being used when they do work, so it would be easy to determine whether the intercoms are working.

"I don't know what the processes are, but it seems to me they should open the elevators while waiting," Ross said. "The safety problem of not operating them seems greater."

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