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A 'doomsday scenario' | Public hearing brings up concerns in Maryland over WMATA budget cuts

A virtual public hearing on Tuesday allowed residents to voice concerns about possible upcoming cuts to WMATA service in Maryland.

WASHINGTON — Residents and leaders had a chance to voice concerns about proposed cuts in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) 2022 budget during a virtual public hearing on Tuesday.

Facing a funding gap of $210 million, WMATA leadership has proposed a series of cost-cutting maneuvers that could lead to drastic changes: from the closing of 22 Metrorail stations with low ridership and increasing the time between trains to closing the Metrorail at 9 p.m. and eliminating dozens of bus routes.

According to WMATA, rail ridership is down around 90% while bus ridership is down 60% since the pandemic spread to the region. 

Tuesday's virtual public hearing marked the second of three this week and focused on the proposed changes to Maryland service.

WMATA Board of Directors member Michael Goldman handled calls from concerned residents, many of whom were worried about the potential closure of the Grosvenor-Strathmore station.

"Closing the Grosvenor-Strathmore station would be catastrophic to the area," said a man who spoke early to the meeting. "Closing the station would negatively impact surrounding stations, surrounding businesses and result in environmental consequences."

"The threat of closing an entire Metro station and eliminating bus routes that serve key areas of our communities will have a chilling effect on the ability of residents to live and businesses to operate in Montgomery County," explained Montgomery County Councilman Andrew Friedson, who said during the meeting that the "doomsday scenario" must be rejected. 

Others voiced concerns about the elimination of local bus routes, including the G12 and B30 through Greenbelt.

"Whatever you can do, please bring back that B30," said one rider. "I rely on that bus because I have kids that live in Baltimore. I understand cuts have to be made but please, before Metro does it, I need you to help us."

Another elderly bus rider who lives in Greenbelt called for the WMATA Board of Directors to remember the impact of the cuts on the people who rely on public transit for so much.

"Now that you’re talking about eliminating the G12, I feel as though I’m getting cut out from being a tax-paying citizen," she said. "Just think about who you will be affecting when you come to these decisions."

Some of the public comments brought up the impact to some of the riders over having to find a new station to use since others will close.

"Getting to those other stations isn’t exactly easy," one woman said to Goldman. "Cutting back service makes Metro an unreliable source of transportation. The less accessible Metro service is, the less people are going to use it and you create a downward spiral that’s going to result in additional cutbacks, closures, and fare increases down the road."

In the past, WMATA leadership has said the proposed cuts could be amended with extra federal funding.

RELATED: Metro: Federal aid will likely prevent drastic budget cuts, layoffs

On Tuesday, Goldman told the virtual crowd that some of the $30.5 billion in emergency grants tied to President Joe Biden's coronavirus relief American Rescue Plan and set aside for transit could be coming to WMATA and help lead to a review of the changes.

However, according to the WMATA budget proposal for 2022, the following stations could close if no extra funding arrives or if no changes are made:

-Archives

-Arlington Cemetery

-Cheverly

-Clarendon

-Cleveland Park

-College Park-U of Md.

-East Falls Church

-Eisenhower Ave

-Federal Center SW

-Federal Triangle

-Greensboro

-Grosvenor-Strathmore

-Innovation Center

-Judiciary Square

-Loudoun Gateway

-McLean

-Morgan Blvd.

-Mt. Vernon Sq.

-Reston Town Center

-Smithsonian

-Van Dorn St.

-Virginia Sq-GMU

More information on the budget proposal and the possible upcoming changes can be found on the Metro here. WMATA will continue gathering public feedback on the proposed budget through March 16.

Another virtual public hearing will be held on Wednesday at 6 p.m. and will focus on the possible changes to service in Virginia.

RELATED: Metro safety commission demands changes to WMATA structures, procedures

RELATED: COVID federal relief package could help Metro's budget crisis

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