Review: Metro system needs billions worth of upgrades

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Local,Taryn Luntz
Metro needs $11.3 billion over the next 10 years to maintain and upgrade its aging system, General Manager John Catoe said after a comprehensive review of the system’s state.

More than $7 billion is needed just to maintain current service levels as much of the rail system’s equipment and infrastructure reaches the end of it 35-year life span, Catoe said.

That includes $900 million for 300 new railcars to replace Metro’s original Rohr cars, now 32 years old and among the system’s most unreliable.

New railcars take three to five years to manufacture.

The $7 billion also would include money to replace about 100 buses a year, fix leaky tunnels and crumbling station platforms, restore old bus garages and rail yards and update system software.

An additional $3.5 billion is needed to cope with projected growth in rail, bus and MetroAccess ridership over the next decade, Catoe said.


Catoe said he hopes to secure funding for the most critical needs from local governments and from a federal transportation bill in the next year and a half.

The announcement comes as the local jurisdictions that fund Metro are hemorrhaging money and bracing for deficits amid a national economic downturn.

Rail ridership, already surging this year amid escalated gas prices, is expected to grow an additional 22 percent to about one million trips a day and bus ridership by 9 percent to 600,000 trips a day in the next 10 years.

The money Metro collects from fares helps pay for the system’s operating costs and does not fund its capital budget.

The capital money would allow Metro to buy 300 new buses and more MetroAccess vans and to upgrade its power system to be able to accommodate more eight-car trains during rush hour.

It also would include about $110 million to build pedestrian tunnels linking the Farragut North and Farragut West Metro stations and the Gallery Place and Metro Center stations.

An additional $700 million would be dedicated to system improvements such as improved security lighting, better station signs and more credit card readers at parking lots.

The $11.3 billion figure represents a comprehensive assessment of needs and could shrink as the local governments pick and choose which programs to fund and which to delay, Catoe said.

“This is the first step,” Metro Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman said. “The region can now decide how much it wants to buy.”
D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray told Catoe Monday that now is a bad time to be asking for more money.

“To ask us to look elsewhere in the budget to do that, I don’t know that we’re going to be able to do that,” he said. “That’s the nicest way I can put that.”

Metro’s current, six-year, $3 billion capital funding agreement expires in 2010 and is paid for by the local jurisdictions and the federal government.

“Unless there is another agreement, we will have little or no capital dollars to maintain this system,” Catoe said. “If we do not address these needs, service will suffer.”

Virginia, Maryland and the District each have already pledged Metro $50 million a year over the next 10 years, although Virginia’s money is in jeopardy following a state Supreme Court ruling invalidating its transportation-funding body.

Metro is the only major transit system in the country without a dedicated source of funding, and officials have been closely following a congressional bill that would have authorized $1.5 billion in matching funds for the system over the next 10 years, but that bill has stalled in the Senate.

More than 40 percent of Metro’s rush hour rail riders are federal workers, Metro officials said.

Catoe said he and other industry leaders are pushing for doubling transit funding in the upcoming federal surface transportation bill, which would increase annual federal money for Metro from $279 million to $558 million.

That bill is due to be reauthorized in September 2009.
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