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Yellow Line Closure Could Hurt National Landing Businesses As They Recover From Pandemic Disruptions

The pandemic and problems with WMATA’s 7000-series trains have created two years of volatility to Metro service, and now the neighborhood around Amazon HQ2 faces another major disruption that could slow the recovery of its businesses.

Tunnel in the Metrorail system

Last week, Metro announced a seven- to eight-month closure of the Yellow Line connection between the L'Enfant Plaza station in D.C. and the Pentagon station in Northern Virginia to repair the tunnel and bridge that cross the Potomac River. This will cut off the direct connection between Arlington's fast-developing National Landing neighborhood and D.C.'s Yellow Line stops, including Chinatown, Shaw and Columbia Heights. 

Some commuters and business owners in National Landing who spoke to Bisnow said they were disappointed, but not surprised.

"There's just parts of it where you wonder: Is this ever going to end?" said Tarsi Dunlop, vice president of the Crystal City Civic Association.

Though residents say they’re encouraged that Metro is taking steps to repair old and outdated infrastructure, the additional disruption leaves many worried that businesses in the National Landing area could suffer in the short term and further erode the willingness that D.C.-area residents have to use the Metro to traverse the region.

Sahil Rahman, co-owner of fast-casual Indian restaurant Rasa and a board member of the National Landing Business Improvement District, said that the disruption was “frustrating." He said it would be an added challenge for restaurants that rely on office workers as customers and staff that can commute using the Metro. The BID itself declined to comment. 

“The Yellow line shutting down for the foreseeable future is obviously not ideal for anyone involved,” Rahman said in a statement provided to Bisnow. “Short term, it hurts small businesses, workers, residents, and the community — especially at a time when things are beginning to re-open.”

Rasa's National Landing location at 2200 Crystal Drive.

Dunlop has been a resident of Crystal City since 2009, shortly after the Red Line crash that killed nine people, she said.

Since that time, Metro has embarked on a series of safety and maintenance projects to improve service. Ridership reached its peak in 2008, but it was on an upward trajectory thanks to improvement campaigns like Back2Good before the pandemic slashed ridership to roughly a quarter of what it once was.

As of January 2022, ridership at Yellow Line stations south of L'Enfant Plaza had improved compared to the worst days of the pandemic, but only up to levels seen in early summer 2021, according to publicly available data from the agency. Of those stations, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport has seen the highest average daily weekday rider entries: 2,079, compared to 5,009 in February of 2020.

The agency announced last week that it would be repairing the 40-year-old Yellow Line bridge and tunnel at the same time as it wraps up its Platform Improvement Project for outdoor stations. Metro will also shut down stations south of the airport from Sept. 10 to Oct. 22 as it works to belatedly bring the new Potomac Yard infill station online.

In response to questions about replacement service, a spokesperson for WMATA said alternative service plans for those affected by the shutdowns would be announced in the coming months once the construction timeline is finalized.

Some are still waiting for alternative service plans to be announced before judging the quality of service. Arlington Economic Development Director Telly Tucker said in a statement it would be “premature” to speculate on how this would affect the return to offices or retail businesses, but that he hoped continued service from the Blue Line would help to alleviate any impacts.

“Intuitively it does not help provide mass transportation alternatives to vehicular traffic,” Tucker said.

But Dunlop said she is already considering alternative arrangements. Dunlop, whose day job is at a nonprofit in Dupont Circle, said she’d consider asking her boss to reduce the time she needs to spend in the office under her new hybrid work schedule if navigating the disruption became too cumbersome.

“It is an inconvenience,” Dunlop said. “I worry about the residents who are starting to go back to the office, I worry about access points to businesses here.”

The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall, with the Pentagon City Metro station in the lower left.

Rahman said that while it will impact businesses in the short term, he was grateful that Metro was taking steps to improve the long-term health of the system.

“It’s a good reminder of what happens when you do not regularly maintain systems over time, and I hope that we are able to invest more in regular maintenance so that these types of disruptions become more the exception than the norm moving forward,” Rahman said.

At least one longtime Northern Virginia resident is nonplussed by the announcement. Freddie Lutz, owner of Freddie’s Beach Bar and Federico’s and a member of the National Landing BID’s board, said he hadn’t heard about the plans when reached for comment. 

But Lutz noted that the area has survived several disruptions over the years, only to come back stronger.

"I'm sure it's necessary improvements that need to be done," Lutz said. "Small price to pay for a better service."

The National Landing moniker itself was created only recently, as a rebranding exercise along with Amazon's selection of the neighborhood for its second headquarters.

Amazon has said its purpose-built office campus developed by JBG Smith, which declined to comment for this story, will bring 25,000 workers to the area, with additional knock-on economic gains as new housing and services are constructed.

Lutz's bar predates Amazon's HQ2 announcement, and he said he managed to operate in the leaner years when Crystal City wasn't attracting as many office tenants. He believes the area will emerge just as strong as it did before.

"Eight months in my experience goes faster than you think," Lutz said. "I feel confident that we'll weather it."

CORRECTION, MARCH 21, 5 P.M. ET: A previous version of this story mischaracterized Sahil Rahman's comments on the Metro disruptions. This story has been updated.