Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

President Barack Obama's 2013 budget has bad news for the D.C. Metro

February 13, 2012 - 12:39 PM
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The White House doesn't love D.C. transit riders. (Photo: flickr/elvertbarnes)

Today President Barack Obama released his $3.8 trillion budget for 2013 and paid special emphasis to jobs in his speech this morning in Annandale, Virginia. But what does this large White House budget mean for transportation? Bad news for D.C. but good news for transit overall.

To help reduce spending in targeted ways, the U.S. government is reducing its annual grant to WMATA by $15 million. Why? "Difficult fiscal circumstances," the 256-page White House budget states, adding that the president's surface transportation plan would aid the country's transit programs and benefit D.C. The $15 million reduction is but a small fraction of the subsidies that feed WMATA's $1.6 billion budget — Metro's overall subsidies amount to $704 million in its fiscal 2013 budget.

Here's some good news nationally, however.

The budget includes $108 billion for transit programs nationally over the next six years, "more than doubling the commitment to transit in the prior reauthorization for both existing capacity and capacity expansion." The U.S. Department of Transportation's funding as a whole has increased by about 2% in the 2013 budget, up to $74 billion for this next year as well as $50 billion to immediately jumpstart road, rail, and other transit programs.

But will that make up for $15 million pulled away from the D.C. Metro? The transit agency already faces mounting pressure to raise rider fares, which it will discuss in several forthcoming town halls, as well as harsh criticism today over the revelation that WMATA spending $51.9 million on contracts with 18 consulting companies. The loss of more D.C. Metro revenue is the last thing anyone needs these days. 

Update, 3:30 p.m.: WMATA General Manager Richard Sarles has attempted to keep a positive spin on the president's proposed budget, at least in his statement released this afternoon:

We applaud the President’s continued support for Metro's important safety improvements and capital program. Using federal PRIIA funding, we are rebuilding the Metro system—from new track and switches, to new signals, new railcars to replace the oldest in our fleet and modernization of our elevators and escalators—all to provide a safer and more reliable ride for the 1.2 million customers who depend on us each day ... We will work closely with the Administration and members of our Congressional delegation to ensure that Metro receives the full funding needed to continue crucial safety and reliability work.

$15 million at stake? No worries there, not publicly, at least.

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