Photo by brownpau on Flickr.

Metro’s planners are working to envision the next generation of the Metro system. But with the system’s current maintenance problems, some are wondering whether WMATA should be thinking expansion at all.

When the Examiner’s Kytja Weir tweeted the news, @FixWMATA’s response was clear: “I say NO MORE EXPANSION until #wmata can prove they can run what they already have!”

Building a third story on a building whose ground floor is structurally deficient is unwise. The problems WMATA faces currently are real and serious, but the agency cannot ignore the problems of the future just because it has problems today.

The agency is working hard to resolve its maintenance backlog, but there’s still a long way to go. And in the meantime, it’s important to think about the next steps beyond that, which include expansion.

The time it takes to plan, design, fund, and build transit projects is long. None of the proposals WMATA is talking about now will likely come to fruition before 2030. Delaying planning until WMATA’s maintenance house is completely in order will push the timeline for these projects out for years.

While some of WMATA’s expansion proposals are for suburban expansion, the major ideas are looking at ways to expand core capacity. Without some of these projects, the overcrowding riders face on the existing system will only get worse over the next three decades.

No matter what WMATA does, ridership will continue to grow. Planners estimate that by 2040, ridership on the rail system will top 1 million daily trips. Crowding in sections of the core will be severe during peak periods.

If WMATA doesn’t start planning now, the agency will never be able to cope when the problems of the future become the problems of the present.

Planning is like chess. You have to think 5 moves ahead. The agency hasn’t been doing that very well in recent years. Telling them they can only look at the next move might help them survive the next round, but it will probably mean losing the overall game.

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master’s in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Dupont Circle. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, and is an employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer.