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Transportation Addition and Subtraction

Our two biggest running stories in local transportation are the potential impact of adding millions of dollars in spending through the federal stimulus plan and of subtracting Metro rail and bus services because of the transit authority's budget problems.

As you read about and listen to discussions on these stories, put the emphasis on the "running" part. At this point, we don't know how either story will turn out.

We do know the transit authority is in one of its worst financial pickels in years. Since John B. Catoe Jr. took over as general manager in 2007, he's cut staff and raised fares to balance the budget. Because the last fare increase was so big, Metro's leaders are reluctant to approve a new one anytime soon.

So Catoe is once again cutting staff. As Post transit reporter Lena H. Sun has reported, Catoe plans to cut $81 million by curbing administrative costs and eliminating 313 positions. About half of those job slots are filled and the rest vacant.

But the gap Metro is looking at in its fiscal 2010 operating budget is huge -- about 12 percent the size of the $1.3 billion budget. So the Metro staff figures it has to come up with $73 million more somehow. They could be done through further staff cuts and other administrative economies, or through increases in local government subsidies, or through service cuts.

Local governments are reluctant -- very reluctant -- to increase their subsidy this year, as they ponder their own service cuts in a bad economy.

So many ideas are being floated. One that you won't see anyone attaching their name to is the idea about closing the subway system at 10 p.m. Catoe knocked that one down in an online discussion Friday, saying the local economy would have to plunge into the dumper for that to make it onto the table.

More within range of consideration, he noted, is the option of charging for parking at Metro lots and garages on weekends and holidays. I see nothing unfair about that one. It would be more a question of economics: Would weekend parking decline if people had to pay, and how much would it cost Metro to add some staff to manage parking?

We're far from the end game, but it's likely to involve a bunch of revenue and cost adjustments, rather than one big thing, like an early closing.

Stimulus Plan
Post staff writer Amy Gardner reports that President Obama and Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine spotlighted the potential for completing the last segment of the Fairfax County Parkway on Wednesday afternoon. In fact, that is a great example of a project that works both ways: It would create lots of construction jobs fairly quickly and give our transportation system something important and lasting.

It also works for both the federal and state governments. The base realignment program is sending 19,500 people to Fort Belvoir, a scenario likely to get many of them caught up with thousands of other Virginia commuters on inadequate roadways unless projects like the parkway advance.

The House and Senate have reached agreement on a $789 billion version of the stimulus, so final passage should come swiftly. The amount is so big, it's tempting to think of it as the solution to our region's considerable traffic and transit problems. In fact, we are likely to get a lot of money.

But it won't come earmarked for particular projects. And the top priority stated by local governments is to spend money on maintaining the transportation system we've got, rather than on creating new stuff.

So here again, it will be a while yet before we know the real impact of the transportation math on travelers.

By Robert Thomson  |  February 10, 2009; 4:48 PM ET
Categories:  Transportation Politics  
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I'm a MD suburban resident and I still advocate the following. Since MD and VA are the states that are balking at actually contributing their fair share of money to support Metro, Metro should answer appropriately. Metro service should not go outside of the district outside of rush hours (e.g. before morning rush hour and after evening rush hour). If the trains have a shorter trip before they have to turn around, then you can run fewer trains which take less power and less manpower. If the states want transit service outside of the business day, they can pay for it.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | February 11, 2009 6:37 PM | Report abuse

RE: DadWanneBe

Although DC nightlife isn't much compared to other cities, DC's nightlife depends on Metro. People won't ride the train into DC (and spend money in DC and pay DC's astronomical sales taxes) if the trains aren't there.


If they are thinking about cutting service, why not make some kind of application for iPhones/Blackberries that accurately tells me when I can expect the train will be there. If I'm at an office or a restaurant/club, I wouldn't mind if they cut service from one train every twenty minutes to one train every thirty minutes if an iPhone app could buzz me ten minutes before a train arrived at my station.


Can any of this "stimulus" spending be used to build a rail bridge between Dahlgren, VA and Newburg, MD? By creating a bypass around DC for freight rail, wouldn't this increase security in DC (by taking the hazardous waste and potential bomb carriers out of downtown DC) and free up track capacity for passenger trains on the Fredericksburg/DC line?

Posted by: reston75 | February 11, 2009 7:09 PM | Report abuse

reston75, there is already a way to see when the next train will be arriving. If you go to the site on your cell phone's browser and then choose "Next Train" you can select your station and see when the next trains will be arriving.

Since you have an iPhone you should just be able to go to and click on "Next Train Arrival" (it's right under "Getting Around" that's in the blue navigation bar). This will pull up real train arrival times.

I never wait for trains anymore.

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | February 12, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

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