Metro: Historic Moment, Unmet Needs

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“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

This quote was delivered in November of 1942 by Winston Churchill after the British Army defeated the German Army at El Alamein, Egypt, for the first time in World War II. It describes the situation at Metro, with the passage by the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia of a combined dedicated funding commitment of $500 million per year.

This is the most important achievement for Metro since it opened in 1976, and the best example of regional cooperation in decades.

But Metro’s issues are not solved — not even close.

After I became chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board in January of 2016, I spent the last two and a half years traversing the region in support of dedicated funding. But this historic moment only addresses part of the problem.

The $500 million per year will allow Metro to access $15 billion over the next 10 years, but this is $10 billion short of the $25 billion actually required for capital needs and repairs. Not included in the $15 billion is a second Rosslyn tunnel, which is essential once the Silver Line is completed to eliminate the “Rosslyn Bottleneck” and facilitate getting trains into D.C. and to the stations beyond. Likewise not included are funds to encapsulate the tunnel on the Red Line from Dupont Circle to Medical Center; without this project, the Red Line will continue to leak water, causing delays.

In addition, Metro’s Office of Inspector General needs significant additional funding to help prevent waste, fraud and abuse. These and other major capital projects are not addressed and must be, at some time soon.

What’s more, Metro’s unfunded pension and Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) are enormous. Currently OPEB is entirely unfunded, with a $2.5-billion shortfall. Our pension plans are underfunded. The total liability is more than $3 billion and growing rapidly.

As a region, we must again address these glaring areas, or risk wasting all the good work we have done so far.

It is time for the federal government — meaning the president and Congress — to step up and pay their fair share. Metro carries 42 percent of the federal workforce every day. The federal contribution of $150 million in Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) money per year and the other capital contributions are simply not enough. Congress needs to double the PRIIA amount and contribute its share of the yearly operating costs.

If the region can achieve historic cooperation on funding, so can the federal government.

Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.

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