Metro to approve $4.7 billion budget, preventing service cuts but delaying Silver Line Phase II to 2022

(Updated, 4:20 p.m.) Metro’s Board of Directors is set to approve a $4.7 billion capital and operating budget on Thursday (April 22) that includes $723 million in federal relief.

The influx of federal funds essentially renders concerns about drastic service cuts set to come in January 2022 moot. Those cuts would have potentially included closing 22 Metro stations across the system, shutting down Metrorail every day at 9 p.m., and limiting train arrivals to every 30 minutes at most stations.

Among the stations that were being proposed to close in 2022 were three yet-to-be-opened Silver Line Phase II stations — Innovation Center, Loudoun Gateway, and Reston Town Center.

Metro officials are now assuring the public that this possibility has now been taken off the table.

“If the Board does adopt this budget, I think it’s an important message to the entire community that these cuts are not coming,” Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said at Metro’s Finance and Capital Committee meeting on April 8.

Instead, as the proposed budget states, current Metro services will maintain at their current level for at least another full year.

If adopted, the budget will also officially push back the start of service on the second phase of the Silver Line until January 2022 at the earliest.

The budget notes that “substantial completion” of the line is expected by Labor Day weekend, when the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority says it will be able to hand over the project to WMATA.

Last month, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn told Reston Now that he was relieved federal relief will save Metro from making drastic service cuts.

“While the WMATA board is working to finalize the FY2022 budget, the Silver Line Phase 2 will now open whenever it is ready and because of the federal funds all Metrorail stations will stay open,” Alcorn said in a statement.

Delaying Silver Line Phase II from the July opening planned in WMATA’s fiscal year 2021 budget will also save Metro money. At a work session in February, operating costs for Silver Line Phase II were estimated to be about $120 million annually, or $10 million a month.

The delay will likely amount to about $46 million in savings after factoring in retention costs like security and ongoing maintenance, which are about $28.5 million annually, or $2.38 million a month — even when stations and trains are not operational.

Metro will get about $723 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds, including $193.4 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) just enacted last month. In addition to sparing Metro from making drastic cuts, the funds will provide money to individual jurisdictions for infrastructure projects in WMATA’s capital improvement program.

Fairfax County is set to receive $40.6 million from Metro’s fiscal year 2022 budget for these projects and potentially $269 million over the next six years, the most of any Virginia jurisdiction.

While most of the questions that Metro asked in their public survey when first opened at the end of February are now moot, the transit authority still received a lot of responses.

Metro received more than 22,400 comments, the most in at least a decade for a budget public survey.

However, most of those comments came from Metrorail riders, even though Metrobus currently has more riders. Of those 22,400 comments, only 17% came from Metrobus riders, 5% from low-income respondents, and 24% from minority respondents.

In response to the now-moot questions about service cuts, most were not in favor of any of the more drastic ones.

Only 13% were in favor of closing up to 22 stations, and 30% were in favor of service stopping at 9 p.m. The 30-minute wait for trains was a more accepted drastic service cut with 44% of respondents in support, 44% opposed, and 12% not sure.

Yellow and Red Line turnbacks, which means fewer trains would go to the end of the lines, were the most popular service cuts, with more than 55% of respondents favoring it.

Photo courtesy Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority

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