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Metro's $11 Billion To-Do List

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The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority provided clips on the current safety problems with the Metro system that General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. proposed fixing with $11 billion over 10 years.Video by Courtesy of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

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By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Metro needs more than $11 billion over 10 years to maintain, expand and improve train, bus and paratransit service, General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said yesterday -- more than double what it has spent on capital investment, on average, since 2002.

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More than $7 billion of that is needed to keep the region's largest transit agency running safely and reliably, he said, and $3.5 billion of the rest would go to run more buses and longer trains to meet growing ridership. Rail ridership is expected to increase at least 22 percent during the next decade, to 1 million trips a day; bus ridership is projected to jump 9 percent, to nearly 600,000 trips a day.

Metro's needs include replacing one-third of its rail fleet, about 300 rail cars that are more than 30 years old and nearing the end of their life cycle; replacing about 100 buses every year; repairing leaky tunnels and crumbling station platforms; and repairing bus garages, one of which is more than 100 years old.

Metro would also need additional funds for tunnels between Farragut North and Farragut West stations and between Metro Center and Gallery Place, long sought by riders.

The agency's current capital needs are funded through July 2010. After that, there is no more money. Capital projects are paid for primarily by state and local jurisdictions served by Metro. The operating budget is funded through local and state governments and passenger fares.

The bottom line, Catoe said, is: "Our house is 32 years old. We have a wet basement, rusty pipes, old wires and a 1976 model car in a 100-year-old garage."

Metro's top executive said the list of capital needs is a starting point for discussions with local, state and federal officials during the next year and a half about which items will be funded. Local jurisdictions are also facing shortfalls, and much will depend on the economy and political decisions at the local, state and federal levels.

"Metro's job here is to say, 'Here's what it costs to do this, and how much do you want to buy?' " said Metro board Chairman Chris Zimmerman, who also serves on the Arlington County Board. The year 2009 "is going to be tough, and for those of us who are doing okay, we're still going to have a fairly tough time putting the budget together the following year."

During the past six years, Metro's capital spending has averaged a half-billion dollars a year, officials said. Costs for construction and materials have increased about 22 percent since 2002, and previous capital plans did not include such major items as replacing original 1970s rail cars. Buying 300 new rail cars will cost about $900 million.

The capital needs of Metro, the second-busiest rail system, after New York's, are in line with those of other major transit agencies, officials said. Boston, which carries fewer riders, has half a billion dollars a year in capital needs.

Catoe contrasted the federal government's plan to spend $700 billion "to fix mistakes" in the country's floundering financial system to the $11 billion needed to "keep a system running that's important to the federal government."

Metro and other transit agencies are pushing for a doubling of transit funds in a major federal transportation bill that expires next September.


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