Repairs to the troubled D.C. Metro rail system are testing the patience of commuters this summer, but Capitol Hill staffers and interns must still squeeze on those trains to get to work and some of their bosses are right there with them.
On any given morning on the Red Line platform at Union Station, you can find Sens. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut . They're not giving up on the nation's second-largest subway system despite age — it's officially middle age — service interruptions, delays, and crowding.
“I'm sure I could have someone on my staff pick me up every day, but why put someone through all that hassle if I have public transportation 10 minutes away from my house.” Murphy said.
“When you’re fighting traffic here, I’ve learned it’s better to just take the public transit. Let a professional fight the traffic,” Heinrich said.
In a city known for criss-crossing motorcades that haul around the very important, members of Congress can still be a pretty regular bunch. Some do glide through the Capitol gates hidden behind the tinted windows of chauffeured sedans, but many, many more sit behind the wheel idled in the region's notorious traffic, walk, cab-it or ride their bikes to work.
And other bigwig transit supporters have ridden the rails, too. Joseph R. Biden used to commute on Amtrak from his home in Delaware before becoming vice president. And in New York, Michael Bloomberg rode to City Hall on the subway when he was mayor.
For Heinrich, the New Mexico Democrat takes full advantage of transit from his home in suburban Silver Spring, Maryland.
“I’d say, well over 90 percent of the time I take a combination of the bus and the Metro,” he said.
Murphy also takes Metro most days, unless there is an early morning event not by a subway stop. He takes the Red Line in from D.C.'s Tenleytown neighborhood.
“I heard all sorts of horror stories about the Red Line before we moved up to [American University] Park, but so far it's gotten me where I need to go,” Murphy said.
“The Metro just makes sense for me because it's right next to my kids' school, so I can walk them to school most mornings, hop on the Metro at the Tenleytown stop, and be into the office around nine,” he added.
So how are they dealing with the repairs?
Murphy doesn’t seem too worried about it. He’s been taking subway since he interned for then-Connecticut Sen. Christopher J. Dodd in 1995.
“I've tried not to change who I am, or how I live, since I've gotten this job,” he said. “I'm sure the summer maintenance will be a pain, but what I'm really worried about is surviving the 10 minute walk to the station in 90 degree heat and a wool suit.”
Heinrich plans on just leaving early enough to factor in the single tracking — the deliberate routing of trains onto a single track so repairs can be made along the other. His commute in takes about 45 minutes, and roughly an hour getting home.
“It’s a huge contrast to at home where you can drive pretty much anywhere in Albuquerque in 15 or 20 minutes,” he said.
And, he's very happy that money is going into the Metro, the funding of which has been a political flashpoint between Republicans in Congress and the regional transportation system that runs Metro.
“I think that differed maintenance has been a problem with the Metro for way too long and it’s just indicative of the fact that in the last 20 years, I think the country as a whole is just not taking infrastructure as seriously as we need to,” Heinrich said.
“And when you do that, eventually it gets downright dangerous.”