Metro’s Board of Directors is still proceeding as if the Silver Line Phase II will open this year, but a public survey is asking riders to weigh in on drastic service cuts, including closing the newly-opened Phase II stations in Janurary 22.
Last week, Metro announced that the public comment period for its 2022 fiscal year budget has officially opened.
As part of that, they’re asking riders to fill out a survey about what extreme service cuts they’d be willing to tolerate beginning on Jan. 1, 2022 if additional federal money is not available.
In these options is a question about the closing of 22 stations across the entire system, including two Silver Line stations – McLean and Greensboro – and three potentially newly-opened Silver Line Phase II stations – Innovation Station, Loudoun Gateway, and Reston Town Center.
At last week’s budget work session, an tentative estimate was noted as early November.
A Metro spokesperson tells Reston Now there’s “no clear answer yet” about an opening date, however the Metro Board has to proceed as if it will open in 2021 in order to pass the 2022 budget.
“The Board will take all public feedback into consideration before approving a final budget for FY22,” writes the spokesperson.
So, it is possible that the Silver Line Phase II could open this year, only for the stations to close a few months later due to the budget shortfall.
Complicating the situation is that Silver Line Phase II and the proposed drastic service cuts are essentially on two different timelines.
Earlier this month, Metro’s staff presented an update on 18 different safety and operational issues previously noted in December.
Of those 18, 17 were still in the midst of being resolved or remained unresolved. They range from maintenance issues with the station platform pavers to several thousand damaged track fasteners that need replacing to cracked third rail insulators.
The Metro spokesperson confirms that resolving these safety and operational issues have a greater impact on the timeline for the opening of the Silver Line Phase II than the budget shortfall in 2022.
In fact, Metro’s funding for Phase II construction hasn’t really been impacted by Metro’s overall financial woes.
“The Metro board has not done anything to delay the opening of Phase II as a matter of Metro policy or budget policy,”Metro Board of Supervisors member Matt Letourneau told Reston Now in January. “Thus far the position of the Metro board has been whenever the project is…. deemed acceptable and safe, and gone through testing, we should open it.”
That’s not to say that the Silver Line Phase II won’t cost Metro money that needs to be accounted for in the 2022 budget.
At last week’s work session, it was noted that operating costs for Phase II are about $120 million annually, or $10 million a month.
If it is delayed to November 2021 due to safety and operational issues, that would save Metro about $40 million.
However, retention costs like security and ongoing maintenance are $28.5 million annually or about $2.38 million a month — even if the stations and trains are not running and operational.
In the end, if Silver Line Phase II does not open in early November and gets delayed until additional federal funding does come through, it could save Metro about $7.5 million a month.
Metro is continuing to plan the 2022 budget under the prospect that they will not receive additional federal funding, though.
The most recent coronavirus relief package provided Metro more than $600 million in federal funds. That funding, notes Metro, helped avoid layoffs and provide essential services.
But even with that funding and other austerity measures, “there is not enough money to fill the entire budget gap for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2021,” Metro’s press release reads.
Hence, the potential need to close 22 stations, including the possibly-just-opened Silver Line Phase II stations.
Among the other options for service cuts asked in the survey is closing Metrorail every day at 9 p.m. and trains arriving only every 30 minutes at most stations.
Metro is asking riders to fill out the survey by Tuesday, March 16 at 5 p.m.
There’s a decent chance, however, that these worries over closing stations on Jan 1, 2022 could become moot.
President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan has $20 billion earmarked for public transit agencies.
At this time, however, it remains unclear how much would go to Metro if the plan does pass in Congress.
Photo courtesy Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority