A $26 billion strategic plan released by Metro last week gave a glimpse at the agency's vision — which includes several substantial recommendations like new Potomac River crossings and new Metro stations — for taking the transit agency into 2025, 2040 and beyond.
Called Metro Momentum, the plan acknowledged piecemeal fixes to an aging system are barely scraping the surface of the transit agency's needs and a growing DC region, whose population is expected grow 30 percent over the next three decades.
"Our customers know that many trains, stations and buses are already crowded and we need to begin planning now to prevent that from worsening and prepare for more riders,” Metro General Manager and CEO Richard Sarles said in a press release.
As Metro explains, when the system was first built in the 1970s it served 100,000 customers a day. Today, an expanded system serves 750,000 customers a day — 20 million trips each year.
Metro's Momentum proposes bringing the current system up to speed in station safety and function, coordinating proposed transportation expansion projects with regional partners and developing an expansion plan for the Metro system with a sustainable, reliable source of income, among other goals.
But how the agency will achieve that last goal has emerged as the plan's largest uncertainty.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority governs Metro with a board of representatives from the District, Maryland, Virginia and the federal government. Funding Momentum's projects could mean a higher bill for those jurisdictions, more expensive fares, or both.
Close to 58 percent of Metro's funding comes from fare revenue, while participating jurisdictions make annual contributions to cover the rest of Metro's daily operations and capital costs. The federal government has funded nearly two-thirds of the system's capital costs over the years through grants.
Opponents of the system's $5.5 billion Silver Line, which will run through Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, often point to the unknown cost of capital needs for Metro, and responsibility for those costs.
Phase 1 of the Silver Line, which will end at Reston's Wiehle Avenue, wis slated to open in December 2013. Phase 2 will run from Wiehle to Dulles International Airport and into Loudoun.
While Phase 1 received $900 million of federal funding, Phase 2 has no federal funds and opponents are concerned tolls on the Dulles Toll road will rise exponentially to pay for Phase 2.
A quarter of the cost of the first phase of the line, which will open in December, is being paid for by user tolls. Seventy-five percent of the second phase through Reston and Loudoun County may be funded the same way, in addition to proposed tax districts localities will use to fund their shares.
The federal government committed $900 million to Phase 1, but nothing to Phase 2.
In releasing Momentum, Metro issued a "challenge" to regional leaders to help develop a funding strategy to support the expansion. Metro says it wants regional governments to help develop multi-year budgets to provide a more reliable source of income for metro projects.
For Momentum, Metro says it will need $1 billion per year to maintain the current system, an additional $500 million a year to maximize the capacity of the existing system core and to coordinate with planned projects in other jurisdictions.
It also says it needs $740 million additional per year to put toward long-term growth.
The system's projects are divided between several tiers of goals: Projects maximizing the existing system, to be completed by 2025, and long-term goals to help expand it by 2040 or 2050.
For instance, by 2025, Metro recommends using eight-car trains system-wide. Meeting that recommendation would cost $6 billion.
Metro believes it should also create underground pedestrian tunnels for transfers between core stations like Metro Center and Gallery Place-Chinatown to reduce the congestion on platforms and escalators as customers transfer.
In the long-term 2040 plan, Metro envisions adding stations, including a second stop at the Pentagon. The agency also suggests creating new train tunnels to separate out trains that share lines, like building a new Blue Line tunnel under the Potomac River and M Street in Georgetown to reduce congestion at the Rosslyn station, the parting point for the Blue and Orange lines.
What else is on tap? Patch will provide a more detailed account of both the 2025 and 2040 plans in the days to come.
You can read the entire plan on Metro's Momentum webpage.