Metro's $11 Billion To-Do List
10-Year Maintenance, Expansion Plan Is Double Previous Capital Spending

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.

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.

Metro is the only major transit system in the country that does not receive a significant source of dedicated capital funding, such as a portion of a sales tax. Although Metro receives some federal funds, a bill pending in Congress would provide Metro with $1.5 billion in dedicated revenue over 10 years, to be matched by the District, Maryland and Virginia.

Metro and local congressional officials have long argued that because Metro is critical to the federal government -- 40 percent of rush-hour riders are federal workers -- it deserves more federal dollars.

But the dedicated funding bill is held up in the Senate. The District and Maryland have pledged their share for Metro, but legislators in Virginia have not come up with a plan for funding transportation improvements, including Metro's.

"Asking for a billion dollars a year is a tall order, a staggering level of money," said D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who represents the District on the Metro board. "We can't get the Congress to appropriate $150 million or Virginia to appropriate $50 million. Where do you think a billion dollars a year is going to come from?"

At a D.C. Council hearing yesterday, Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) criticized Virginia for not doing more to support Metro. He suggested that the District's Metro board members derail the proposed Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport unless Virginia members support a measure the District wants: moving Metro's headquarters from downtown Washington to Anacostia.

The decisions for rail to Dulles were made years ago, and, practically speaking, only the Federal Transit Administration can kill the project -- by not providing funds.

Jeff C. McKay, who represents Virginia on the Metro board and is a member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said it was "outrageous" to suggest that Virginians are not contributing their fair share, noting that recent fee increases hit long-distance riders the most, in higher fares and parking costs.

In an e-mail, he said comparing the "ill-conceived" proposal to move Metro headquarters with Dulles rail was absurd. "To D.C., I would say, 'Policy by intimidation is no way to do things.' "

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