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.
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.
February 10, 2009; 4:48 PM ET
Categories: Transportation Politics
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