The cost of mass transit for the Port City

The cost of mass transit for the Port City

By Derrick Perkins (File photo)

Officials with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority have big plans for the system, but it could come at quite a cost to local taxpayers.

The transit agency’s Metro Momentum 2025 initiative came with an initial price tag of $6.4 billion, though officials eventually agreed to phase in the massive spending spree. Still, they are looking for $1.3 billion between fiscal year 2016 and 2020.

And they are turning to the transit system’s regional partners — like Alexandria — for help.

The Port City’s share could rise to $66.8 million over the next six years, warned Deputy City Manager Mark Jinks and acting Transportation Director Yon Lambert last month. That figure is on top of the $5.6 billion Metro needs from regional partners for basic safety improvements and maintenance over the same period.

“At this level, it is a major hit and very problematic for us,” Jinks said during a presentation before city council in October.

Though costly, Metro’s expansion plans enjoy widespread support. The transit agency wants $2 billion to run eight car trains throughout the system during rush hour. Another billion would go toward station improvements, while a further billion would be spent creating Blue Line connections.

Smaller ticket items include $983 million for track improvements, $419 million for communication upgrades and $806 million to overhaul the system’s bus fleet. If it goes through as is, area partners, which include local municipalities and state and federal governments, will begin to pitch in during fiscal year 2016.

“I support it; we all support it,” said Mayor Bill Euille at the time, referring to his colleagues in neighboring jurisdictions. “It’s really a matter of how do we pay for it and understanding the financial implications that municipalities and the state are dealing with. We’re not just sitting around with a pocket full of money.”

Euille also sought to assure residents that the deal was far from finalized.

“We have not reached any conclusion yet as to how to pay for this,” he said.

Jinks and Lambert likewise raised concerns, noting that many aspects of the massive undertaking need further consideration.

The duo posed a series of questions, the first of which was: Are eight car trains during rush hour needed? Jinks pointed out that passenger demand fell short of earlier predictions, owing to the turbulent economy and cuts in federal spending.

They also questioned the payment plan. With nothing yet set in stone, officials have time to debate how the costs are divvied up, particularly since many of the improvements benefit stations located inside the District, Jinks said.

Richmond’s commitment to funding rail projects in Northern Virginia remains a question mark, according to Jinks. The commonwealth and Maryland are stretched thin, he said after telling city councilors they could not look to Capitol Hill for a savior, either.

“Additional federal funds are highly unlikely, if not completely impossible,” Jinks said.

Officials plan to hammer out a framework by December’s end. Funding negotiations likely will carry on after that, Jinks said.

“This is a big challenge that the localities and Metro board are going to need to address over the coming months,” he said.