- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 1, 2004

Metro board members yesterday suggested temporarily taxing riders and increasing fares to close a $1.5 billion budget shortfall over the next six years.

Officials said they need the money by October to buy more cars for eight-car subway trains or else the project will be delayed until at least 2008.

They also expressed concern about riders not heeding their doomsday prediction.

“I can already hear people asking three to four years from now, ‘Why didn’t you tell us?’” said Chris Zimmerman, a Democrat and board member representing Arlington County. “How many different ways can you tell people disaster is on its way?”

Mr. Zimmerman said Metro services could cover the billion-dollar shortfall by imposing a sales tax for three to four years in the Virginia region.

Northern Virginia voters rejected a sales tax increase two years ago to pay for transportation projects, including Metro.

Gladys W. Mack, the board’s vice chairwoman, agreed that riders must recognize the agency’s need for more money.

“This is very serious,” she said. “The message needs to be heard and its facets emphasized.”

Miss Mack also proposed a limited tax, but neither she nor Mr. Zimmerman gave specifics on how one would be implemented.

A Metro spokesman said the agency has no authority to impose a tax and that such a tax would be handled by each jurisdiction.

Metro officials said they need the $1.5 billion to pay for 120 cars, 185 buses, maintenance and more security.

It is not certain exactly how much money Metro will need because none of the governments that help pay for the agency has agreed upon how much it will give.

The U.S. House cut its original six-year transportation proposal from $375 billion to $275 billion.

The U.S. Senate approved a $318 billion bill that would give the agency an extra $127 million, and the Bush administration’s $256 billion proposal would leave Metro about $43 million short.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams on Monday submitted the city’s fiscal 2005 budget that included $436.3 million of the $533 million that Metro requested. No funding agreement has been reached in Maryland or Virginia.

Board members yesterday suggested making a video for the agency’s Web site to show customers the effects of declining service, such as “unmanageable” crowding and breakdowns.

Richard A. White, the agency’s general manager, said the transportation system would “melt down” without adequate funding.

“Time is running out,” he said.

Mr. White said overcrowding and incidents such as the March 18 Woodley Park-Zoo station cable fire, which shut down tracks at three stations, will occur with more regularity if the necessary funds are not raised soon.

“Riders can expect to see these types of conditions as early as three years from now,” he said.

Metro needs nearly $28 million to purchase the 120 cars to make the eight-car trains, but is still proceeding with system upgrades to run them.

Board members have agreed to spend $22 million on upgrades to the rail yards and the power system to accommodate the eight-car trains.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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