The work could close the west entrance to the station for most, if not all, of the project’s expected three-year length. And when Metro’s plans came to light in April, just two weeks before Metro’s original May 4th start date, the community rallied to oppose not the work, but the timing of the project.
The closed sidewalk at the Park Van Ness project already forces many pedestrians to cross busy Connecticut Avenue as they head to and from the Metro station from the north. Closing the west entrance will require them to cross again at either Windom Place or Veazey Terrace, adding to the steady stream of people who cross there now and adding to the potential for driver-pedestrian conflict at those intersections.
At ANC 3F’s May 26th meeting, the commissioners considered community feedback about the question: Would we support closing the Van Ness station on weekends if it would accelerate the escalator work? Feedback was mixed, ANC 3F Chair Adam Tope said, and the commissioners decided the issue required greater study by Metro itself.
At the same meeting, David Power, a lawyer and resident who brought Metro’s plans to our ANC’s attention in the first place, urged the commissioners to get a statement from Metro, in writing, about why the agency cannot delay the construction until the sidewalk at the Park Van Ness construction site reopens at the end of this year.
Jack Requa, WMATA’s interim general manager, did write to ANC 3F Chair Adam Tope. In a May 12th email, Requa repeated the assertion Metro made at an April community meeting about why it could not simply move on to the next station that needs new escalators (which is Cleveland Park).
“The project has been in development for some time and has been coordinated to accommodate complex production orders and labor contracts,” Requa wrote. “Escalators are custom-made to site-specific measurements, and not all parts can be interchanged.”
The community and commissioners had also suggested keeping the west entrance stairway open to commuters. Requa’s answer was repeated at the ANC’s May 19th meeting by the Metro engineer in charge of escalator and elevator improvement projects:
“We will assess the structural integrity of the stairs at the west entrance to determine the feasibility of keeping the west stairs and tunnel open during the project. This assessment can occur only after the adjacent escalator is removed, and we will notify you when we have the results of the assessment. Please keep in mind that – even if this option is implemented – it may be necessary later to close the west entrance. The original plan calls for the stairway area to house a chute for the replacement of the escalators.”
Requa went on to acknowledge the concerns raised about pedestrian safety:
“We do appreciate the constructive suggestions offered recently for increased safe pedestrian access to the open (east) entrance to Van Ness station during the installation project. To address that need, we are working actively with DDOT and other officials to explore additional pedestrian safety measures that can be implemented while this essential work goes forward.”
And it is DDOT that holds the key to allowing the work to go forward. Metro needs DDOT permits to use the sidewalk and street by the Van Ness west entrance for staging the work site. DDOT’s Matthew Marcou told a May 19th ANC meeting that he expects to approve the permits “in short order.” In the meantime, as of Monday, it will be exactly four weeks to the day since Metro expected to begin the work – before, that is, it was blocked by DDOT.