- The Washington Times - Friday, September 13, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Metro's chief executive is proposing a massive expansion plan, as the transit system's ridership is increasing and traffic congestion is threatening to choke off growth in the metropolitan area's $240 billion annual economy.

The $12.2 billion program presented yesterday by Metro General Manager Richard A. White would expand the system's bus and rail-car fleet by 32 percent and increase capacity to 1.6 million passengers per day.

"The time is right to move forward with this," Mr. White told Metro's planning and development committee.

The panel approved a resolution sending details of the plan to officials in the District, Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland, which are served by the transit agency.

Mr. White cited growth in population and employment and increased air pollution as factors making the plan more palatable to elected officials. The alternative, he said, is worsening traffic congestion, which now drains $2.5 billion from the regional economy.

"Our citizens are complaining it's affecting their livelihoods," Mr. White said.

The traffic problem costs the average driver about $1,600 per year in lost time and productivity. Mr. White proposed a series of projects over a decade beginning with the 2004 fiscal year.

In addition to adding 300 rail cars, the plan includes purchasing 460 buses and replacing vehicles after 15 years of service.

Preliminary engineering and design work also would be funded for projects that add 114 miles to the existing 103-mile subway system. The addition would be a combination of light-rail or trolley service, dedicated bus corridors and subway extensions.

Seven of the projects would serve the District, four would be in Virginia, and two others would serve portions of Prince George's and Montgomery counties in Maryland.

Funding could pose a problem.

Just the cost of renewing the infrastructure considered essential would increase from the $235 million projected for fiscal year 2003 to $385 million by 2007. Those costs are projected to level off at $435 million for the balance of the program.

D.C Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, suggested tunneling through residential neighborhoods in the city might make some projects too costly.

Katherine K. Hanley, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said support from Northern Virginia officials could be contingent on the outcome of the vote on the transportation sales-tax referendum on Nov. 5.

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