The busiest subway stop at Metro Center was nearly empty during what would have been rush hours as patrons from Maryland and Virginia heeded stay-at-home orders issued by the governors of those states and the order for District of Columbia residents went in effect at midnight on Tuesday. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)
**FILE** The busiest subway stop at Metro Center was nearly empty during what would have been rush hours as patrons from Maryland and Virginia heeded stay-at-home orders issued by the governors of those states and the order for District of Columbia residents went in effect at midnight on Tuesday. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

Metro’s board of directors on Thursday approved an amended fiscal year 2021 budget proposal that will keep rail stations open until 11 p.m. and improve bus service.

However, the agency still faces a $176 million shortfall. The number is less than September’s projection of $212 million, largely due to $35 million in savings from lower costs for overtime and energy and fuel, but the budget gap could still result in layoffs for up to 1,400 employees.

The agency had projected months prior that roughly 1,700 would be laid off, but the number was trimmed because several hundred employees eligible for retirement will be offered $15,000 buyouts.

“We are trying to push that number as far as we can” to decrease layoffs, said Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld.

Board members praised Wiedefeld and agency staff for adjusting the budget to keep stations open until 11 p.m. instead of a proposed 9 p.m. closing time, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I want to commend management for announcing a buyout proposal that will essentially encourage people at retirement age with a buyout bonus to retire early,” said board member Michael Goldman, who represents Montgomery County, Maryland. “So there won’t have to be, or at least we will be able to minimize, the number of involuntary job losses that will result for Metro employees.”

The budget did help improve bus service for 20 routes, such as retaining weekday service along Route 70 along Georgie Avenue in the District, adding weekday trips on the P12 between Eastover and Addison Road in Prince George’s County and restoring the weekday schedule for 28A along Leesburg Pike in Northern Virginia.

Metro and state officials continue to urge the federal government to offer financial support for the transit agency.

President-elect Joe Biden’s <a href=”https://joebiden.com/infrastructure-plan/” target=”blank”>infrastructure plan</a> would dedicate about $10 billion over 10 years “specifically for transit projects that serve-high poverty areas with limited transportation options.”

But with the ongoing pandemic and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urging people to not travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, future budgets remain uncertain.

“Without additional federal funds, the board will be further challenged in development of the fiscal year 2022 budget with the process starting next month,” Wiedefeld said.

The board will review that upcoming spending plan during a special finance committee meeting at 9 a.m. Dec. 4.

Besides the grim financial outlook, the coronavirus has also affected Metro workers.

Wiedefeld said a second employee, a store clerk, died over the weekend after contracting the virus about a month ago. The employee’s name wasn’t given.

Theresa Impastato, chief safety officer for the agency, said 495 workers tested positive for the virus and 435 recovered and returned work. Two employees remain hospitalized.

“We recognize that behind these numbers are countless families, loved ones and communities affected by the pandemic,” she said. “And affirm our commitment to protecting the health and welfare of our employees and customers.”

In other business, the board approved renaming two Metrorail stations in Maryland and Virginia.

In Prince George’s County, the Prince George’s Plaza station will become Hyattsville Crossing. The Tysons Corner station in Northern Virginia will change to Tysons.

The name changes will happen when Metro begins placing new signs when service on the Phase Two Silver Line begins, which agency documents show could start next year.

The majority of the 5,500 responses supported to keep the original station names.

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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