Metro and Fairfax County officials celebrated the completion of a staircase at the Vienna Metro station Thursday, nearly three years after the project was approved and after 11 months of construction.
The project, though long in the making, is part of a new trend for the agency to give riders a way out of the system besides escalators that are prone to breaking. But such projects have raised questions about who should pay for the work.
Metro officials approved the staircase in July 2009, with a pledge of $2 million from Fairfax County to build it between the platform and the mezzanine where riders pay their fares to enter the system. Construction began in June 2011 and finished earlier in May before this week's ribbon cutting, said Metro spokesman Philip Stewart. The delays were not due to any one thing, Stewart said, but a combination of materials arriving later than planned and several other minor setbacks.
County officials had sought the stairs out of concern about the increasing volume of riders at the station, especially on the platform as riders leave the endpoint station during the evening rush. Vienna is the busiest Orange Line station in Virginia with 13,000 daily riders, according to Metro.
Separately, the agency added one staircase to the Foggy Bottom entrance in May and plans to spend $2 million to add them to Bethesda and Union Station soon.
Typically, local communities carry the cost of the improvements. Just as Fairfax County did with the Vienna staircase, Arlington County is building a new entrance at the Rosslyn station to accommodate growth there.
But when the agency proposed the Bethesda and Union Station staircases a few weeks ago, officials included the projects in the main capital budget for the entire region to fund. Board members, especially Mary Hynes of Arlington, questioned the fairness of doing so.
Metro's board also has looked at having riders pay the cost. The board has approved 5-cent surcharges on fares for riders who exit or enter some stations, with the money set aside for improvements at those stations. The District has sought the surcharge for Union Station for years. But despite winning approval for a surcharge -- twice since 2010 -- the board has not been able to agree on which stations could levy the fee.