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Cash-Strapped Metro Needs Millions in Repairs

Water-damaged cables are among the items that need to be fixed by Metro in the next two years.
Water-damaged cables are among the items that need to be fixed by Metro in the next two years. (Courtesy Of Metro)
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By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 27, 2008; Page B01

Worn track fasteners. Crumbling concrete platforms. Corroded traction power cables.

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Those are among the items that need to be repaired or replaced at a cost of $244 million in the next two years for Metro to operate safely, but the transit agency can't afford the work.

Metro officials have determined that the agency needs $489 million in urgent work to replace worn equipment, improve rail car safety and fix deteriorating infrastructure. That amount includes the $244 million for projects that need attention within the next two years.

The funding shortfall is scheduled to be discussed at a Metro board committee meeting today, the first time such a comprehensive review has come before the board in recent years.

"We're looking at every project and starting to formalize our funding strategy," Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said in an interview yesterday.

Officials said passenger safety is not at immediate risk.

Catoe said employees were trying to prioritize capital projects and determine whether funds from less pressing projects can be shifted. One option being considered is to cancel contracts with vendors to recoup money, he said.

"We need to identify what we must do now and look at what funds you can transfer," he said.

Because of Metro's chronic capital and repair needs, it is difficult to make long-term plans, officials have said. It is the only major transit agency in the country that does not have a significant source of dedicated funding.

The 32-year-old system needs costly fixes, but its financial needs are exceeding the means of local governments. All jurisdictions served by Metro are facing budget deficits because of the struggling economy.

The largest chunk of money, $88 million, is needed to replace or repair infrastructure damaged by water. Affected materials include track feeder cables throughout the system and deteriorating concrete platforms at the Shady Grove, Deanwood and Minnesota Avenue stations.

At the Shady Grove station, metal jacks are shoring up the concrete as a temporary fix. Moisture and age have also damaged metal track fasteners, which were installed when the system was built. Fasteners help keep tracks secure. Metro says it will need $20 million to replace 120,000 fasteners.

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