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On 35th Anniversary, Capital Metro Is Grappling With A Pandemic And Planning Biggest Expansion Yet

A Capital Metro bus displays a public health message during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gabriel C. Pérez
A Capital Metro bus displays a public health message during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Capital Metro launched 35 years ago Wednesday — July 1, 1985. As it marks that anniversary, the agency is facing both its biggest challenge, COVID-19, and its biggest opportunity, Project Connect. 

COVID-19 has caused ridership to drop dramatically this year, and the current economic uncertainty has caused the agency's vital tax revenue to fall as well. The pandemic is also impacting the health of employees. A MetroAccess operator this week became the second known death among those working for Cap Metro. 

“(He was) just a really nice individual that really believed in our mission, and it’s definitely going to be at a loss for all of his colleagues here,” said Cap Metro President and CEO Randy Clarke. “I can't overemphasize our number one priority will always be staff safety.”

Clarke said a larger outbreak of cases has likely been prevented because of heightened sanitation and hygiene protocols, along with the distribution of personal protective equipment. Cap Metro is also encouraging employees to stay home if they’re sick, and has offered expanded sick leave. 

“We were on this fast. ... You can always be better,” Clarke said. “But I think we're trying to do everything we can, and we're willing to take any idea that we see out there in the industry and apply it here if it's better.”

Clarke says despite the worries about COVID-19 now, it’s not the time to pull back on the ambitious Project Connect plan to launch new train and bus lines. If a funding package worth billions of dollars is approved by voters, it would be the largest expansion in the agency’s history.

“What we're talking about doing is measured in years and decades and ultimately generations,” he said. “At a certain point, we're going to have to have a transportation system that functions for a city and an economy of our size.”

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