Virginia’s Metro board rep says transit system’s $300 million shortfall could double by 2019
Virginia’s representative on the Metro (WMATA) board, Second Vice Chairman Jim Corcoran, said Thursday during a State of Transportation event in Loudoun County that the transit system’s nearly $300 million fiscal 2018 operating shortfall could double by 2019.
“If things don’t change, it will be impossible,” Corcoran said. “We’re at $300 million this year ... but next year it’s going to be $500-$600 million.”
Last week, the Metro board’s finance committee approved General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s proposed operating budget that includes service cuts and fare hikes. The full board is expected to take a final vote on that budget later this month.
If Corcoran's predictions are correct, the increase would come just a year before Metro comes to Loudoun in 2020.
Corcoran, who is also the CEO of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, told the Times-Mirror that Metro’s year-long SafeTrack maintenance program is one of the main culprits of the budget woes. He said the transit authority "overspent" its long-term budget capacity with the recent SafeTrack initiative.
“For next year, that bonding capacity is not there,” he said.
Officials say this year’s shortfall was caused in part by expense growth, a decline in ridership as a result of SafeTrack, an increase in telecommuting, lower gas prices and more transportation options.
The second vice chair’s prediction also came as President Donald Trump proposed a federal budget that looks to make cuts to several government agencies, including a 13 percent reduction to the Department of Transportation.
About 15 percent Metro’s funding comes from the federal government.
Corcoran noted that Trump's proposed budget, paired with the lack of consistent and reliable funding from the feds and commonwealth of Virginia, makes things worse.
“There’s no clear path. All the jurisdictions are very nervous about this,” Corcoran said.
In recent months, leaders from local jurisdictions, including in Loudoun County, have been reeling over the capital and annual operating costs they are being expected to pay for Metro.
From fiscal 2017 to 2018, the jurisdictional funding for capital costs in D.C., Maryland and Virginia have shot up between 90 percent to more than 200 percent.
Meanwhile, proposed jurisdictional operating funding for fiscal 2018 ballooned from $866.5 million in 2017 to now $997 million.
According to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s latest projections from October, Loudoun will start to pay Metro around $12 million in fiscal 2019 in annual operating and capital costs.
The next year, the number is slated to jump to $50.8 million, then to $58.4 million in 2024 and as high as $82.1 million in 2025.
To help pay for the unexpected high costs, local leaders have been calling for dedicated sources of funding from the federal government and General Assembly.
Corcoran said changes must be made to Metro’s governing compact between D.C., Maryland and Virginia to try to get some savings out of the system.
For now, he says, there has to be an “increased capacity” for funding from localities at the state and jurisdictional level.
But with competing local funding needs for schools, public safety and other projects, Corcoran wonders, “What’s the appetite for that?”
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