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2/20/2004



Rail News: Passenger Rail

WMATA Chairman Smith outlines 2004 obstacles, goals



As a partner in architectural firm Smith Colen Architects, Robert Smith is accustomed to creating blueprints. But as he begins serving a one-year term as Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) chairman, he’ll need to draw up a different kind of plan: one that enables the authority to prepare for future growth despite a significant budget deficit.

During his first board meeting yesterday, Smith outlined his 2004 visions and goals, and discussed challenges facing WMATA, the most immediate of which is a projected $28 million to $36 million fiscal-year 2005 budget deficit.

"We recognize that fare and fee increases will be necessary to address this deficit," said Smith, according to a prepared statement. "However, we will also continue to look for ways to cut operating costs even further."

In addition to the short-term budget crunch, the authority is trying to overcome a long-term capital budget funding shortage of $1.5 billion.

Despite budget challenges, WMATA this year plans to open the Largo Town Center and Morgan Boulevard stations on the Blue Line extension, and New York Avenue/Florida Avenue-Gallaudet U Station on the Red Line. The authority also expects to begin operating eight-car trains, add new parking facilities and rehabilitate others, and expand its SmarTrip® fare-collection system.

Once the FY2005 budget is complete, Smith expects the board to consider ways to extend WMATA’s 103-mile system.

"We can begin a dialogue to develop a new formula structure that addresses the incorporation of new modes that serve greater distances, and venture into new jurisdictions that do not monetarily participate in WMATA today," he said. "Even in the face of our economic challenges, there remains a great deal of hope in our ability to make practical progress to advance this system."




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