I testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week about the state of our regional Metro system, laying out in stark terms the problems facing Metro. The system has $18 billion in deferred maintenance, a $2.5-billion unfunded pension liability and a $150-million operating budget shortfall next year (after balancing this year’s budget on one-time money).
I also made clear that the federal government, which — with four board members — has an equal role in governing the system, needs to contribute $300 million per year to the operating budget, just like Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the entity created by the federal government to operate the Metro system, has gone from a shining example of regional cooperation and a futuristic plan for public transit to the mediocre system we have today.
This is the system of the National Capital Region of the United States of America. A system used by many of the region’s 22 million annual visitors from across the country and around the world. A system that transports more than 50 percent of the federal workforce every day. A system that — despite billions of dollars in investment — has been under-maintained for decades, as have our national parks, our highways and essentially every other transit system in the U.S.
I have put the region on notice that we need to come together to create a dedicated funding source for Metro that produces approximately $1 billion per year. I have also begun meeting with regional leaders to assess the different options for a regional funding source.
In 2006, I sponsored — and the District Council passed — legislation that would have dedicated 0.5 percent of our sales tax to Metro, but Maryland and Virginia did not implement a similar dedicated funding source. If we again fail to act on a dedicated funding source, in 10 years it will be much more expensive and perhaps too late to save Metro.
Given Metro’s recent performance and continued loss of ridership, we cannot raise fares and expect anything other than more riders leaving the system. Metro is the economic backbone of the region, and we need to make it our highest priority infrastructure investment.
WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld is putting together a plan to reform the agency and begin addressing the deferred maintenance and safety recommendations from the Federal Transit Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board. The agency is also putting together a complete, detailed and prioritized capital-needs inventory to get the system back to the world-class system that the region deserves.
While Metro gets its house in order and develops a roadmap for its revival, the governments, business and citizens of the region — D.C., Maryland, Virginia and the federal government — need to come together to fund these plans. Otherwise, we will be left with the mostly safe, somewhat reliable, mediocre system we have today.
Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.