Metro Needs to Come Clean on Deferred Maintenance

How much does the Washington Metro system spend on maintenance, how much maintenance is it deferring, and how big are the liabilities that are accumulating? If Metro officials know the answers, they aren’t saying.

According to, Metro budget director Richard Harcum noted back in 2004 on the Metro Matters website that the transit agency’s annual maintenance budget was only one percent of the total value of the infrastructure, instead of the three percent needed to keep the system in tip-top shape. Writes “How long maintenance has been seriously underfunded is anybody’s guess.”

Harcum’s comment prompted Fairfax County taxpayer gadfly Arthur Purves to ask for the cumulative cost of Metro’s deferred maintenance, which he speculates is on the order of $5 billion — comparable to the cost of building the proposed Rail to Dulles extension. Despited repeated requests for information, Purves has yet to receive an answer.

Virginians are being asked to raise $5 billion (including federal funds) to build the Metro extension through the Dulles Corridor. We need to know what we’re getting into. With more miles of track, it stands to reason that we’ll be taking on a larger share of the cost of maintaining the system. The true cost of the Rail to Dulles project entails more than the up-front capital cost of construction: It includes ongoing obligations for operations and maintenance. We need to know what those obligations will be.

If Purves is anywhere in the ballpark and deferred maintenance for Metro approaches $5 billion, what’s Virginia’s share under current funding agreements? And how much will Virginia’s share increase if Rail to Dulles gets built? Does anybody know? Does anybody besides Purves, and Bacon’s Rebellion care?

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


7 responses to “Metro Needs to Come Clean on Deferred Maintenance”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    3% isn’t enough. Even that number is hopelessly optimistic.

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    gee.. how bout we ask VDOT the same question?

    What kind of answer does a question like this really seek to answer?

    What I WOULD agree with for both METRO and VDOT is performance metrics that include asset management.

    But ask VDOT how many bridges ought to be brought up to minimal industry specs..and if you really want to get into a morass.. ask how many roads… are in need of improvement (VDOT’s own list).

    I’m not forgiving the sins of METRO but just pointing out that unless one can show that they are outside the norm.. of that industry and/or the transportation industry.. that it’s more “finger pointing” than anything else…

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar

    At least VDOT is totally open about the fact that it has deferred maintenance. I think the numbers are available to anyone who would simply ask.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross


    where is that list?

    It’s not the 6yr plan.

    Tell me .. in your own county where the list is of roads that are in need of work….

    oh.. and I’ll let you off easy and won’t ask that the list be ranked according to need…


    In fact, let’s do a real test.

    How about you actually ASK your VDOT District office for the same equivalent list for roads that we’re claiming that METRO will not give…

    And.. if you actually get that list – I’ll eat the printout..


  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Metro has been pretty clear about the fact that they have a large amount of infrastructure which needs major overhaul. The Examiner tends to pick on Metro, so I wouldn’t take their opinion as the only side of the story. It still doesn’t change the fact that their is a lot of deferred maintenance for both roads and rail. When you don’t index gas taxes and metro fares to growth rates and material inflation it eventually catches up.

    I would agree about VDOT. I can’t remember the last time VDOT spoke about how they will deal with enormous maintenance projects such as I-66 and the Beltway, and I’m not just talking about resurfacing. Maryland has briefly mentioned their part of the Beltway, but even they have no plan on how to deal with it.

    These problems aren’t going away and not having realistic discussions about how to deal with them won’t make things better.


  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    JLARC had a lot to say about this way back in 2001 both with respect to VDOT and Transit – and to date – virtually none of their recommendations have been implemented.

    It’s not that we don’t already know the issues – like the WAMTA maintenance backlog … it’s that we see those issues more as reasons why transit “fails” as a competing mode rather than mobility that needs the transit leg to get improve.

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    how much money does VDOT spend on road maintenance in NoVa and how about a list of roads where maintenance has been done and the list of those next on the schedule?

    How about a simple listing of roads separated by functional category?

    As I said before.. I’m not excusing METRO but just pointing out that the info is not freely proffered by either entity – and that I suspect that if that same actvist guy made the same request to VDOT, he’d get the same treatment from VDOT also.

    So this is probably not a “Metro” thing… agree?

Leave a Reply