Metro reopened the south entrance to the Dupont Circle station Sunday after spending more than eight months replacing the station's massive escalators.

The overhaul was "one of the largest and most complex escalator projects ever undertaken by Washington Metro," Richard Sarles, the agency's general manager, said at a ribbon cutting celebrating the entrance's reopening. "The Dupont Circle escalators here at the south entrance were one of the most unreliable escalators in our system, ... so often our customers either had to face the walk up the escalators -- over 100 steps, about 85 feet -- to get to the surface, or turning back and going to the other entrance."

Each escalator weighs 54 tons and had to be cut into eight pieces to be replaced, Sarles said. The repairs, performed by Mass Electric Construction Company, cost the agency roughly $12 million.

The escalators at the southern end have been problematic for years, said D.C. Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, who served as chairman of the Metro Board from 1994 to 1997. "We went in-house to try to fix them, we contracted them out to try to fix them, brought them back in-house again, 'cause it is really a challenge with these escalators to keep them running."

When the agency closed the entrance on 19th Street Northwest in February, the more than 22,000 customers who board trains at Dupont Circle and thousands more who exit there had to either change their routes or use the north entrance, at Q Street and Connecticut Avenue Northwest. when something went wrong with the escalators at Dupont Circle's north entrance, Metro was sometimes forced to close access to the station.

Now that the south entrance is open again, the agency plans to begin rehabilitating the escalators on the north side -- though Metro plans to close off just one escalator at a time, rather than the whole entrance. The escalators at Dupont Circle's north entrance represent just three of the 94 escalators Metro plans to replace over the next seven years, according to Sarles.

The new escalators "are more robust, and they'll last longer -- there will be fewer breakdowns," Sarles said.

Some of the escalators' first users were impressed, saying that they look cleaner and more high-tech.

"I'm just amazed that it's open," said John Barnard, who lives nearby. "Even walking down [the steps] is hard on your leg muscles."

Still, some shutdowns are likely inevitable, Sarles warned. "You can always have somebody with a flip-flop that gets stuck in the stairs."