Studies on Dedicated Funding for Metro – If We Had a Nickel…

September 7th, 2016

The region has entered its 30th year of discussion about funding Metro.

Rail Rehab Costs 86 Study

Projected rail structure maintenance costs from the 1986 FCC study.

There has been a lot of talk recently and even more sound bites about the need for more consistent, reliable, and dedicated funding for Metro. But while it may seem like an innovative topic, discussions about Metro’s funding challenges and the need for a dedicated funding stream for Metro have been going on for … decades.  This has been an identified problem and heavily-studied topic since at least 1986 – the year the Oprah Winfrey Show debuted, Top Gun was the highest grossing film, and Ferris Bueller took a day off.

Truth be told, scores of very smart people have expended time and effort and resources to articulate the problems, accurately predict the consequences of inaction, and suggest solutions suitable (and necessary) for implementation.  So when you read “news” about Metro’s funding challenges, the problems it creates, and potential fixes – remember that what you are reading is hardly “new”.  And no refrain is older than the “it’s not the right time”, to which we must remind the reader that for three decades, it hasn’t been “the right time”.  How’s that working out, anyway?

Below are a few of the studies and reports generated on Metro’s funding challenges and possible solutions to closing the funding gap:

Studying – check. So now what?

What are the funding options?

The Transportation Research Board (TRB) documented an array of local funding options for public transport, as did the Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI). The region has a number of options that can be investigated to increase revenues (“funding”), which run the gamut of increasing fares and advertising to increasing property, fuel, and sales taxes to instituting station rents and capturing air rights, not to mention implementing road taxes (aka “congestion charging”).

VTPI Public Transit Funding Options and Their Advantages and Disadvantages.  Click for a larger version.

What about an infrastructure bank or public private partnerships?

These aren’t funding options. They are financing mechanisms. As noted in an earlier PlanIt post, they don’t actually generate new revenue, but provide pathways for local and state governments to leverage funding or revenue sources. Many governments and other transit agencies use these methods to get the upfront cash needed for large projects by committing existing and future revenues. These can help Metro implement future capital projects, but they don’t answer the fundamental need for funding.

What are Metro’s options?

In 2014, Metro assessed a variety of financing mechanisms, and some funding options, when we looked at opportunities to implement Metro 2025. We also estimated the potential sales tax revenues of $177M – $702M per year based on a range of sales tax increase (0.25%-1%) by jurisdiction.

Financing Options and Metro 2025

Financing Options and Metro 2025, click for larger version.

Potential Annual Revenue Estimates from Sales Tax via Creative Financing Paper Clean 3 20 14

Potential Annual Revenue Estimates from Sales Tax via Creative Financing Paper, click for larger version

The Takeaways

(1) The discussions about Metro funding aren’t new. (2) There isn’t a silver bullet. (3) There are a wide variety of sources to fund operating and capital needs and some sources work better than others. (4) There is no “right time” to move beyond study to action.

What do you think is the best solution for funding Metro?



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  1. Kanti
    September 8th, 2016 at 10:42 | #1

    Good summary and timely one as well.

  2. Mark
    September 8th, 2016 at 15:05 | #2

    – The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) should be able to fund the contruction the New Blue Line Connection (New Rosslyn Station) in the next six year plan ($1.7 Billion available)

    – It is still unclear why the D&G Pocket Track cannot be used in the near term for six car trains.

    – Core Station Improvements can be mitigated by increased MARC and VRE service (New Long Bridge), K St Streetcar, Bike Share, and Bus Lanes.

    – On the Virginia Side, a PRTC/NVTC Gas Tax increase and floor ( and the I-66 and I-395 HOT Lanes can help fund Bus transit expansion

  3. Elvis
    September 15th, 2016 at 16:10 | #3

    Close it down.

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