Metro board praises plan that calls for major upgrades

January 24, 2013
(Katherine Frey --The Washington Post)
(Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Metro’s board of directors praised a new strategic plan Thursday that lays out $26 billion worth of major improvements to the system in the next three decades, but some members acknowledged that the key in moving it forward will be getting regional support – especially to pay for the ambitious plans.

The transit agency, unlike other major ones, does not have a dedicated funding stream based on taxes. It receives funding from the federal government, Maryland, Virginia and the District.

Metro says it will need billions of dollars to pay for building a new tunnel under the center of the District, a second tunnel under the Potomac and other improvements so the aging system can handle an increase in riders in the coming years.

The proposed new rail tunnels — one under 10th Street to Thomas Circle and another between Rosslyn and Georgetown and on to Thomas Circle — would be massive undertakings. The projects would require major financial commitments from local and federal governments and would take several years to plan and several more years to complete.

Mary Hynes, a Metro board member from Arlington, said that as the plan is presented to area chamber, civic and business groups, board members should be involved to help gain support.

“Now comes the really hard part, where the conversation needs to happen in the region of how we do this,” she said.

Hynes said the conceptual ideas in the plan wouldn’t get done “unless the public says, ‘We want to pay for this.’ ”

“There is no cover for legislatures today without that,” she continued.

The Maryland and Virginia state governments have been struggling to try to figure out how to pay for transportation initiatives while also paying for other needs.

Artis Hampshire-Cowan, a board member from Prince George’s County, said she believes the plan, while good, could run into competition from other regional needs.

Most of her counterparts, she said, “think about roads and bridges.”

“As we work with diminishing resources, we’re really going to have to sell it.”

Along with the proposed tunnels, Metro says it must spend billions of dollars to upgrade the rail system’s electrical grid to handle more eight-car trains and must add pedestrian corridors between transfer stations such as Metro Center and Gallery Place. Above ground, Metro needs to buy more buses, build more bus garages and create bus-only lanes on busy downtown streets.

Metro’s board also chose Tom Downs of the District to serve as chairman and Mort Downey, who is a federal government representative, as first vice chair and Alvin Nichols of Prince George’s County as second vice chair. Cathy Hudgins of Fairfax stepped down as chairman of the board.

Follow me on twitter @postmetrogirl.

Dana Hedgpeth is the Washington Post’s lead reporter in covering the Metro rail and bus systems in the D.C. region and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) that runs them.
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