Although Metro’s proposed operating budget for the next fiscal year reflects belt-tightening because of a lackluster revenue forecast, officials said they still want to invest $1.3 billion in long-term projects as part of a separate spending plan that does not rely on rail and bus fares.
For the 12 months starting in July 2015, Metro’s financial managers have proposed an operating budget of $1.8 billion — about half of it coming from fare revenue — to cover the day-to-day costs of running the rail and bus systems. That would be about $69 million more than the current operating budget, or an increase of about 4 percent.
But next fiscal year’s proposed $1.3 billion capital budget — money for infrastructure upgrades and other long-term improvements — would amount to 14 percent more than this fiscal year’s $1.14 billion capital spending plan. Money for the capital budget comes from federal, state and local sources, not from fares.
Metro officials detailed their agenda for capital spending in a proposal that the transit authority’s board of directors will debate this winter and spring.
In interviews, Metro’s chief financial officer, Dennis Anosike, and senior budget officer Michael Burke said the plan includes $850 million for upkeep of the transit system’s “state of good repair,” meaning vehicles, buildings and other infrastructure.
The projects will go forward only if money to finance them is appropriated by the Washington-area jurisdictions served by Metro.
For example, in its fleet of about 1,500 buses, the agency plans to replace 21 older, diesel-fueled articulated buses with 21 hybrid articulated buses, which run on diesel fuel and electricity. The older buses are at the end of their useful lives, Metro said.
In addition, the agency plans to take delivery of 111 new, 40-foot buses powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). Metro said its first batch of CNG buses, purchased in the early 2000s, is ready to be retired after a decade-plus on the roads.
For commuters, out-of-service escalators in subway stations are a constant source of aggravation, and fixing or replacing them is an unending task for Metro.
In the next fiscal year, the agency plans to replace escalators in the Bethesda, Woodley Park, Mount Vernon Square, Waterfront, Capitol Heights, Van Ness-UDC, Huntington, Georgia Avenue, Columbia Heights, Glenmont, Deanwood, Shaw and Brookland stations. Several elevators are also due to be overhauled.
Officials said the $850 million includes money to buy 150 new MetroAccess vehicles, used to transport people with disabilities, and funds to complete major renovations of the parking garages at the Southern Avenue and Suitland Metro stations. Metro said it also plans to continue upgrading the overhead lighting in rail stations.
The agency plans to award a contract in the next fiscal year for the construction of outdoor canopies above entrances at 10 stations: Metro Center, Shady Grove, Gallery Place, Judiciary Square, Brookland, Smithsonian, Minnesota Avenue, Deanwood, Dupont Circle and Huntington. The work will be done over a period of years.
The $850 million portion of the capital spending plan also includes an “aggressive program for track rehabilitation to achieve a steady state of maintenance.” Translation for subway riders: As always, there will be weekend delays and station closures as workers replace old rails.
Besides the $850 million in projects related to Metro’s “state of good repair,” the $1.3 billion capital plan includes a $420 million investment in new rail cars and infrastructure improvements that are needed to accommodate them.
Over the next several years, Metro hopes to acquire 748 new, advanced-technology rail cars known as the 7000 series, or 7Ks. Adding those cars to the fleet would allow the agency to reach its long-standing goal of eliminating six-car trains during morning and evening rush hours and running only eight-car trains.
Metro has ordered 528 of the cars, 190 of which are due to be delivered in the fiscal year beginning in July. The $420 million would pay for those 190 cars, as well as to begin buying 220 more 7Ks and starting work on related upgrades to the rail system’s electrical power and maintenance facilities.
The additional 7Ks would be paid for and delivered over several years. But the long-term rail-car plan relies on funding from Washington-area jurisdictions. Transportation officials from the District, Maryland and Virginia have been meeting in recent weeks to decide whether the project is worthwhile.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) have signaled support for the 7K plan. It remains to be seen whether Metro officials will get the help they want from Maryland Gov.-elect Larry Hogan (R) after he takes office in January.
“We’re engaged in conversations with all the parties right now,” Anosike said. “Obviously, in putting together the budget, there’s an assumption that the funding we expect at the federal, state and local levels will be coming through.”