Members of Congress have until Friday night to reach a budget deal, and the lack of a deal could mean a shutdown of the government.
This would mean furloughs for thousands of workers in the Washington, D.C. area. On the positive side, it will likely mean less crowded trains and lighter traffic for those who would still be heading to work.
There are about 200,000 federal employees in the District alone, with another 145,000 in Maryland and 178,000 in Virginia. There are also thousands of federal contractors who may find themselves sidelined until the shutdown ends.
A government shutdown would force most federal workers to stay home, but it would not apply to so-called “essential” employees, such as active duty military, TSA agents, FBI agents, employees at the National Security Agency, air traffic controllers, and food inspectors.
If you are not directly impacted by a shutdown, you may find it will impact your commute. You can expect traffic and transit ridership to be significantly lighter, but there may be service adjustments and other disruptions.
Here are some key things commuters should consider if there is a government shutdown.
Metro Would Still Run - While it does get some funding from the federal government, Metro is not a federal agency. So expect trains to continue running, albeit with far fewer passengers. A lengthy shutdown could impact funding and force Metro to move money around and potentially adjust service. But there’s no immediate threat of service stoppages.
But You May See Service Changes - If ridership drops, don’t be surprised if Metro and other transit agencies adjust service in response. After all, there’s no need to run trains as frequently if ridership doesn’t justify it. In 2013, MARC Train cancelled some trains on the Brunswick and Camden Lines.
Metro Would Lose Money - Metro has already been enduring declining ridership, and a lengthy shutdown won’t help boost its coffers. WMATA said it lost $5.5 million during the 16-day shutdown in 2013, the result of 1.7 million lost trips. In addition, it saw some funding delayed because the federal appropriation was held up due to the shutdown.
You’ll Encounter Fewer Tourists - This impact will not be very noticeable during this time of year, but you can assume that anyone planning to visit D.C. may reconsider when they realize that the National Mall will be essentially closed, and they won’t be able to get into any of the Smithsonian museums.
The Mall Will Be Shut Down - If you pass through the National Mall on foot or bike during your commute, you may have to find a different route. That’s because Mall would be off limits during a government shutdown, as it is run by the National Park Service. Enforcement of this has historically been fairly lax, but you still may encounter barricades instead of open paths, and water fountains will be shut off.
Expect Less Traffic Near Federal Employers - Obviously, a shutdown would mean less traffic heading into the District, but it would also likely mean fewer cars headed into the Pentagon and major federal employment bases like Fort Meade in Maryland. You may see less traffic in the Bethesda area due to the shutdown of the National Institutes of Health, but Walter Reed National National Military Medical Center would remain open.