Happening Now

In Extreme Weather, Transit Keeps People Moving

July 10, 2019

When roads are swamped, trains can keep running

by Sean Jeans-Gail

Washington, D.C. – Maryland – Virginia (DMV) residents experienced a rough post-July 4th holiday commute on Monday, with torrential rains causing flash flooding, road closures, and snarled commutes.

While the DMV region is used to sudden tropical storms in summer months, the July 8th storm broke a 148-year-old record, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Andrew Snyder, dropping 3.3 inches of rainfall in a single hour.

That spelled trouble for motorists.

D.C.’s Homeland Security Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA) issued a warning to Washington, D.C. drivers, saying that due to today’s severe weather, the Bowser Administration advises road closures along several key corridors, to remain in effect during the duration of the afternoon rush hour.

Even D.C. Metro was affected, with the flooding leading to leaks springing in tunnels and flooded stairwells. But WMATA’s operators were able to keep trains running on a delayed schedule.

Scientists warned that Monday’s deluge is a harbringer of troubles to come.

“We’re still approaching this 21st-century problem with 20th-century infrastructure, and it’s completely inadequate,” said Constantine Samaras, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, told the New York Times. “And it’s only going to get worse.”

As policymakers think about how to adapt infrastructure to extreme weather patterns, it’s important for us to emphasize the point that investing in rail and transit creates elevated levels of resiliency in our transportation system. Rail can provide an important safety valve—whether it’s rural Montanans in a winter storm or Mid-Atlantic commuters trying to get to work in a deluge.