It's one of the busiest Metro stations on the Red Line and the gateway to Bethesda's bustling downtown. But some say the condition of the Bethesda Metro station leaves much to be desired.
Now, Metro officials and Bethesda community leaders are meeting to look at ways to improve the station.
For months, crowds have waited at rush hour as passengers shuffle single file up and down a single stationary escalator from the train platform to the ticket area. The escalator has essentially been transformed into a staircase while its counterpart is rehabbed by WMATA. Work on both escalators has meant lots of frustration for many of the station's average 10,250 weekday riders for the better part of the summer.
"It's been a hassle," said Bethesda resident Stephanie Merritt, who uses the Metro to commute to her work in Washington, D.C. "But I think people are coping with it, despite the grumbling."
Laughing, Merritt said she hoped the project would be completed before the holidays.
Complaints have been rolling in to local officials on the project, and now new concerns are arising as WMATA reports leaking water is causing mold to form in the station's ceiling tiles. WMATA is searching for the source of the leaking water, which has caused the ceiling tiles to mold and their support structures to rust, according to WMATA spokesman Ron Holzer.
"Once the source of the leak is found, we will develop a repair plan," Holzer wrote in an e-mail interview.
The mold issues have compounded the community's frustration with WMATA, triggered by the escalator outages.
"If you go to any other major city that has a Metro or a subway system, no one lives with this kind of nonsense," said Jon Weintraub, a Bethesda resident who heads the Downtown Bethesda Condominium Association. "The fact that Metro can't get its act together to solve the problem is incredible."
Metro says that in some cases, rehabbing escalators can prove difficult because the companies it originally purchased the machinery from have gone out of business. The Bethesda escalators were installed in 1984 and were purchased from Westinghouse, a company that is still in business but no longer makes escalators, Holzer said.
Most of the parts needed for the Bethesda project are available, though some need to be ordered in advance, Holzer said. He expects the project to be completed by Oct. 18, but he said it might take longer. The transit authority recently brought in an outside expert to assess its elevator and escalator program, and Bethesda was one of the stations audited, he said.
The Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce has formed a committee to look into improving the station, and the committee spearheaded a walkthrough of the station last month that included members of the Bethesda Urban Partnership, the chamber and the regional services center, along with Metro engineers and maintenance staff.
The committee aims to make the station more attractive by enticing the business community to sponsor artwork and encouraging WMATA to work on cleaning the station and fixing issues like the escalators, according to Jane Fairweather, a Bethesda realtor who chairs the committee and sits on the chamber board.
"A lot of people come to us through the Metro, and the downtown Bethesda business district is one of the trophies of Montgomery County," Fairweather said. "But people come up from this rundown, dingy, sort of disgusting Metro, so it doesn't have any compatibility with what the downtown market looks like."
Ginanne Italiano, who heads the chamber, said she's confident that the issues are being addressed, now that the appropriate agencies are working together.
"WMATA was very cooperative and wanting to work with everyone here from this community," Italiano said.
Fairweather said another meeting between Bethesda community leaders and Metro officials has been scheduled for next month, but Holzer said he couldn't confirm another meeting.