Metro: Bethesda escalator replacement won't be sped up

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Local,DC,Maryland,Virginia,Transportation,Kytja Weir

The replacement of the Bethesda Metro station escalators will not begin any earlier than planned, Metro says, despite Montgomery County officials' pleas.

County Council members asked Metro last month to speed up the time line for the project slated to begin in early 2014, as riders endure delays when the current equipment breaks down.

As recently as Thursday, one escalator between the mezzanine and street was out of service, prompting complaints on Twitter when the two remaining escalators were both running upward. When all are stopped, it's far worse.

Bethesda escalators as metaphor for U.S. failure
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman used Bethesda escalator repairs last summer as an example of why America was falling behind, after noting it took the transit agency 24 weeks to repair two short 21-step escalators that run from the platform to the faregates. He noted it took just 32 weeks to build an entire world-class convention center in China.

But Metro General Manager Richard Sarles wrote in a letter to Council President Roger Berliner dated May 24 that the escalator replacement schedule would not change.

"We regret the inconvenience that customers continue to experience at Bethesda station when escalators are not functioning," Sarles wrote.

The work requires extensive design and engineering work before any construction can begin, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. The project is tricky because the entrance will need to stay open during construction, unlike Dupont Circle, which has one exit closed during similar work.

The Bethesda station has the second-longest escalators in the transit system at 212 feet. That makes the work harder to do than at Foggy Bottom, where Metro recently completed its first escalator replacement in more than a decade. Once work begins, Stessel estimates Bethesda's escalators will take six to 12 months to replace.

Until then, riders will have to endure other hassles as the agency prepares for the work.

Metro plans to add a staircase between the platform and the faregates to aid with traffic flow. It closed the elevator from the street last month for major repairs slated to be finished Oct. 27, according to Metro's website. Next month it also plans to shut down the elevator from the platform. Both should reopen the same day, Stessel said, which could be as early as late September.

But that causes problems of its own. Without an elevator, those who use wheelchairs or are toting luggage, bikes or strollers must find an alternative or teeter on the long escalators. Riders can take the train to Medical Center, then request a free shuttle bus to take them to the Bethesda station. Yet some riders do not know about the free shuttles or cannot afford the extra time. On Tuesday morning, 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.

And if all the escalators go down, Metro has said it will need to close the station for safety reasons while the elevators are shuttered. That hasn't happened so far, Stessel said.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kytja Weir

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner