By Clarece Polke
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The chief of Washington's subway system warned on Thursday of possible maintenance shutdowns lasting months, while urging a major funding boost for the U.S. capital's transit system.
Just two weeks after a one-day system-wide closure shook the city, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board Chairman Jack Evans compared the increasingly overburdened, 40-year-old subway network to a bridge that needs repairs.
"If we close the bridge entirely, we can do it in six months. If we do it in parts, it will probably take 21 months," Evans told Reuters in a telephone call.
The Washington Post first reported on Thursday potential closures of entire rail lines for as long as six months that could mean commuting nightmares for many Washingtonians.
More than 700,000 people use the system, known as the Metro, every day in the country's sixth-largest urban area, already one of the most traffic-tangled of American cities.
Paul Wiedefeld, Metro's general manager, is leading an investigation of the tracks to determine which of the six lines are in need of greatest repair. He is expected to release his findings within four to six weeks.
"Any service change in the plan that could affect your commute will receive ample notice," he said in a statement.
Evans first brought up the possibility of a Metro shutdown during a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the system. In a speech, Evans discussed the need for an investment of an additional $25 billion over the next decade to keep the system afloat. “If we do nothing, which is an easy way to go, the system is not going to be able to make it," he told Reuters.
Metro spokeswoman Morgan Dye said Evans was speaking "hypothetically" about the potential months-long shutdown. Final decisions will await completion of the investigation, she said.
District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser said transparency and input from riders is key in any plan moving forward.
"Shutting down Metro for one workday was an inconvenience," she said. "Shutting it down for months at a time will have far reaching consequences for riders and the entire region.”
The 91-station Metro is the second-busiest U.S. subway system. Serving the District and its Virginia and Maryland suburbs, it closed on March 16 for emergency safety inspections that found dozens of defective power cables.
(Reporting by Clarece Polke; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Alistair Bell)