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Metro: Dupont Escalator Closure Will Send 'Manageable' Crowds To Farragut North

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WASHINGTON -- When Metro closes the south entrance of the Dupont Circle station in Northwest Washington for a total reconstruction of its three mechanically troubled escalators next year, commuters aren't going to feel the squeeze just at Dupont's Q Street entrance. Farragut North, already one of the system’s busiest stations, is likely to get even busier, too.

That's because the escalators at Dupont's south entrance, which are used by more than 23,000 passengers on an average weekday, serve as a gateway to 19th Street and Connecticut Avenue NW, major pedestrian routes leading into the heart of the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District, where 84,000 workers head every day.

Those 23,000 Red Line commuters will be looking for a new way to get to and from their offices. "Some percentage of Dupont Circle customers will migrate over to Farragut North, which isn't a bad option," Dan Stessel, spokesman for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, told The Huffington Post.

On an average weekday, more than 40,000 commuters use the Farragut North station, which has three entrances, two at Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW and one at Connecticut Avenue and K Street NW. Currently, the station is undergoing some significant construction work. One platform-to-mezzanine escalator is being rehabbed, while a sewer line and water main, which travel through the northern end of the station hall, are being strengthened structurally. All that construction has already led to major delays for commuters getting to and from the station platform.

Stessel said the work at Farragut North will wrap up before the work at Dupont begins -- sometime during the first quarter of 2012. The Dupont project could take as long as 12 months, but it could be finished sooner.

"We're all about underpromising and overdelivering," Stessel said. "We want to manage our expectations. We will do everything we can to expedite the process, but it is a very complicated project."

The escalators at the Dupont south entrance are 188 feet in length -- that's roughly the equivalent of 18 stories -- and are slated to undergo a complete reconstruction, from the substructure up. The entrance was originally designed for just two escalator units, but a third one was installed in 1997 to accommodate more commuters. It's a tight squeeze, which makes the reconstruction all the harder.

Stessel noted that Metro had considered keeping one escalator open while rebuilding the others. But a phased approach would take more than two years and would still require periodic full closures of the entrance as heavy equipment was moved in and out. "There was no feasible way to do that without having the entrance closed for weeks at a time," he said.

D.C. Councilman Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who represents the affected area, said, "It's going to be a great inconvenience to a great deal of people. ... Unfortunately, it is necessary."

Evans, who served on the Metro board of directors in the 1990s, said the 19th Street escalators have been causing trouble for years. He also suggested that, while Dupont's Q Street entrance is not as convenient as the 19th Street entrance for some commuters, "it's not as inconvenient as people would think."

Still, Leona Agouridis, executive director of the Golden Triangle BID, predicted that for Dupont Circle commuters who head south toward K Street, Farragut North will be the inevitable alternative. For pedestrians, she said, "it's more complicated to walk through that circle [from Q Street]."

That means more crowding at Farragut North. "There will be some congestion," Stessel said. "It's not ideal but it is manageable."

The key will be communication, including signage and up-to-date information, Evans said. Agouridis' organization has already contacted affected property managers between M Street NW and Dupont Circle. "We can reach the workers," said Agouridis, a former Metro communications manager. Less frequent visitors, like those heading to bars and restaurants on the weekend, will be harder to educate prior to the shutdown.

"It's very important that Metro inform the public, the [Advisory Neighborhood Commissions], the Dupont Circle Citizens Association ... and the BID itself," Evans said. That’s already happening, according to Stessel and Agouridis.

"We're kind of uniquely situated to facilitate that communication," Agouridis said of her organization, which represents business owners, property managers and other key stakeholders in the Golden Triangle district.

By the time the Dupont entrance shuts down next year, Metro is also slated to have its "virtual tunnel" between the Farragut North and Farragut West stations operational, giving SmarTrip card users a free surface-level transfer among the Red, Blue and Orange lines that skips the primary transfer point at Metro Center.

Agouridis said Metro has assured the Golden Triangle BID that the new virtual transfer won't add significant commuter loads at crowded Farragut North.

WATCH people on the Dupont Circle station's 19th Street escalators:

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