Metro board praises plan for major work

January 24, 2013

Metro’s board of directors, meeting on Thursday, praised the agency’s new strategic plan but some members expressed concern about how Metro would find the money to pay for even a portion of the $26 billion plan.

In the 49-page plan, which outlines the system’s goals for the next three decades, Metro says it needs to build two tunnels — one under 10th Street to Thomas Circle and another between Rosslyn and Georgetown and on to Thomas Circle.

The tunnels are among a host of major improvements that Metro says are needed to handle the region’s population growth.

“We’ve got to have support from those who make the funding decisions,” said Mort Downey, a federal representative on the board and the newly elected first vice chairman.

The projects would require major financial commitments from local and federal governments and would take several years to plan and several more to complete, Metro officials said.

Thinking long term for Metro

They are expected to meet over the coming months with area business groups, congressional leaders, riders and others to enlist support. The Metro board is expected to decide whether to adopt the plan by the middle of this year.

But securing the money for the projects could be a major challenge.

Unlike other major transit agencies in the country, Metro does not have a dedicated revenue stream based on taxes. It receives funding from the federal government, Maryland, Virginia and the District.

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

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

Metro’s costly plans come as the Maryland and Virginia state governments have been struggling to figure out how to pay for transportation initiatives while paying for other needs.

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

Metro’s strategic plan that will guide the transit agency’s decisions over the next 10 years.

She added, “There is no cover for legislatures today without that.”

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

Most regional leaders, she said, “think about roads and bridges.”

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

Along with building 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. The transit agency also proposes to add pedestrian corridors between transfer stations such as Metro Center and Gallery Place. Above ground, Metro says, it needs to buy more buses, build more bus garages and create bus-only lanes on busy downtown streets.

In other board news, Tom Downs, a D.C. representative on the board, was elected by other members to succeed Catherine M. Hudgins of Fairfax as board chairman. Downey, the new first vice chairman, and Alvin Nichols of Prince George’s County, the new second vice chairman, round out the board’s new leadership team.

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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