Wicked commute greets those trying to get into D.C. after snow

Morning commuters experienced prolonged delays on Friday as the roads and public transportation systems in the Washington region were clogged with people headed to work – some for the first time all week.

Metro trains were running as infrequently as once every hour along the Orange Line, while traffic on I-395 and I-66 were at a standstill for 30-minute stretches. The Ballston Metro station was so crowded on Friday morning that police temporarily closed the station’s entrances to new passengers until trains could move people off of the overcrowded platforms.

Trains grew increasingly crowded as the stations reached closer to the heart of D.C., so much so that many passengers opted to take outbound trains away from their destinations for several stops so they could board less-crowded trains headed inbound.

Meanwhile, the front car of a six-car Red Line train derailed near the Farragut North Metro station just after 10 a.m. on Friday, forcing Metro officials to evacuate the train’s passengers onto already crowded platforms, though no injuries were reported.

Ambulances and fire trucks crowded the corners above the station’s entrances on Connecticut Avenue and K Street, NW, responding to the accident and further clogging morning traffic downtown.

Back-to-back blizzards paralyzed D.C.-area businesses, residents, and streets for nearly a week. As snow removal crews have worked avidly to clear main arteries through the region, many people saw Friday as their first chance to make it into the office and escape the cabin fever that had set in.

After a blanket hiatus over the past several days, nearly 50 Metro buses were running on Friday, as were two Circulator routes. Sources tell The Hill that in several places people stood in lines that stretched down the block waiting for buses, while there was a 45-minute wait for taxicabs in parts of heavily populated Northern Virginia.

Metro officials said that all of the stations on the Blue, Yellow and Green Lines were open on Friday, though the Red Line had five above-ground stations that were closed and the Orange Line had three closed stations on the west end. Officials said that the Metro system would close three hours early — at 12 a.m. on Saturday — to aid snow cleanup efforts. 

For four consecutive days, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) canceled work for more than 250,000 federal employees in the Washington D.C. region this week, costing the government nearly $100 million a day in lost productivity and opportunity costs before reopening on Friday.

The OPM caught criticism over the week, especially from people in surrounding states who did not think the 3 feet of snow warranted a government shutdown.

And on Friday, several morning commuters wondered why federal workers had been directed back to their offices with only one day left in the work-week and travel conditions still not operating at full capacity.

The former head of the OPM, Janice R. Lachance, said that directors of the agency have often been stuck in the precarious situation of making a decision that is inevitably going to rub some people the wrong way.

“The OPM director can rarely make a closure decision that satisfies everyone involved,” said Lachance, who served as OPM director from 1997-2001.

“As the OPM director, you get the best information and advice from the experts, but their views often conflict. The director's job is to weigh all of these opinions while keeping the safety of the public as the paramount standard."

"Inevitably, someone will be unhappy, but you have done the best you can in what is always a very volatile and uncertain situation.”

Calls to the OPM went unreturned as of press time.

More than 100 people -- including national weather experts, public transit officials, and all levels of government -- advised OPM Director John Berry on how to proceed with the latest closing, which directed workers on Friday to arrive no more than two hours later than normal.

This isn’t the first time D.C. has experienced a prolonged shutdown of the federal workforce followed by a problem-fraught reopening because of inclement weather.

Over the winter of 1996 federal employees were granted three days off of work. When the OPM directed people to return to work on the fourth day, the commute proved to be filled with delays and accidents, much like it was on Friday.

This story was updated at 3:40 p.m.