Metro board chair on system overhaul: We don’t have any time left

WASHINGTON — As Metro prepares for extensive repairs to its aging subway, the transit system’s overhaul plans could change based on the input of local officials but that the repair work has to be done and soon, Metro’s board chair says.

The full rehabilitation plan is expected to be released Friday and is expected to call for rebuilding the tracks, power system and other infrastructure — in some cases from scratch.

In an exclusive interview with WTOP, D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans says that while major shutdowns of stretches of track for rebuilding are absolutely needed, the region will still have a chance to weigh in on the plan.

“We’re going to need the help of all the jurisdictions in trying to alleviate the inconvenience that (this) plan is going to cause,” Evans said.

The planned overhaul will likely take tracks out of service for weeks at a time, including during the rush hour. Routine service delays could ultimately put more traffic on the region’s already congested roads as transit riders swap Metro for their cars.

But Evans also warned that the repairs can’t be put off any longer despite concerns area officials might have.

“You cannot operate this system in the conditions it’s in, so we’re going to have to step up to the plate and do it. And, really, I’m worried because this region has shown a propensity to not do things, to put things off, not make hard decisions, and I don’t believe we have any more time left,” Evans said.

General Manager Paul Wiedefeld has been working on the rebuilding plan for months and will unveil his final draft Friday morning after presenting it behind closed doors to Evans and the Metro board.

Last week, Wiedefeld said riders would have to make sacrifices and to expect significant service reductions while repairs are underway.

“(We) are going to fix the system. We are going to make it safe and reliable again. But it’s going to take time and it is going to be inconvenient. And so I ask all the riders to bear with us. We will do our best to alleviate the inconvenience to get you to where you are going safe and in a timely fashion. And when we’re done, we will have a much better system,” Evans said.

Despite the need for extra buses or traffic changes, Virginia Transportation Sec. Aubrey Layne says there have been no specific requests from Metro yet for help.

“We have not been asked to participate,” Layne said Thursday.

Virginia has offered help and has staffers regularly involved in larger regional discussions.

Evans said he has met with leaders of a number of regional bodies including Council of Governments leader and Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner, plus Northern Virginia transportation leaders, and several civic groups about the larger issues facing Metro.

“(To) explain how serious the situation is both on our maintenance side and our financial side, and then to explain what the help is that I need from the group in order to start addressing some of these problems,” he said.

Evans does not know whether the $950 million Metro capital budget recently approved for the year starting in July will be enough to cover the track work plan as well as other Metro safety priorities like purchasing more of the new 7000 Series railcars.

“I don’t believe there is enough money to cover the rehab that’s necessary in Metro,” he said.

“I’m asking the region after 25 years of doing nothing to finally pass a dedicated funding source that will raise $1 billion a year,” he adds.

Evans suggested in the interview that key track repairs alone could cost $1 billion.

“I think what the region has to decide is what kind of a system they want. And if we want a first class system that is safe and reliable, we have to pay for it. Otherwise, we got what we got, and this is not a good situation,” he said.

Evans is asking riders to stick with Metro through the repairs.

“On behalf of the entire region, we apologize to you for not having taken care of this system …. the entire leadership in this entire region has failed the public in taking care of Metro,” Evans said.

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