Ho­gan re­luc­tant to bail out D.C. Metro

‘We can’t throw good money after bad,’ gover­nor says

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Erin Cox ecox@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/Eri­natTheSun

WASH­ING­TON — Gov. Larry Ho­gan said Wednes­day that Wash­ing­ton’s Metro­rail sys­tem must dra­mat­i­cally im­prove be­fore Mary­land will con­sider pro­vid­ing it with ad­di­tional tax dol­lars.

“This is un­for­tu­nately a sys­tem that ap­pears to have been bro­ken for a long time, with no­body re­ally in charge,” said Ho­gan, not­ing that Mary­land al­ready pays “nearly half a bil­lion dol­lars” to sub­si­dize the Metro lines that ex­tend into Prince Ge­orge’s and Mont­gomery coun­ties.

He said the sum — 11 per­cent of the state’s an­nual trans­porta­tion con­struc­tion bud­get — is dras­ti­cally out of pro­por­tion with the num­ber of Mary­land res­i­dents who ride Metro.

“At this point, that’s about as much as we’d like to spend un­til we can see some things im­prove,” Ho­gan said.

How­ever, he would not rule out sup­port­ing a new re­gional sales tax to help re­build the be­lea­guered tran­sit sys­tem.

The sys­tem is fac­ing a $275 mil­lion short­fall next year and is con­sid­er­ing rate in­creases and ser­vice cuts to help close the gap. D.C. of­fi­cials sug­gested this week that it would be bet­ter to seek more money from the three ju­ris­dic­tions served by Metro. Ho­gan was re­luc­tant to en­dorse that pro­posal.

“We can’t throw good money after bad, but we’re go­ing to con­tinue to in­vest in things that make sense,” Ho­gan said.

It was a sen­ti­ment echoed in less-harsh terms by Demo­cratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Vir­ginia, who ap­peared along­side Ho­gan and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, also a Demo­crat, at Wednes­day’s Cap­i­tal Re­gion Busi­ness Fo­rum.

The ap­pear­ance co­in­cided with the elected of­fi­cials’ first re­gional sum­mit, at which Metro’s trou­bles be­came a pri­mary topic.

“They’ve got to get some things done be­fore they come back and ask for more money,” said McAuliffe, re­fer­ring to Metro’s lead­er­ship. Paul J. Wiede­feld, a for­mer Mary­land trans­porta­tion of­fi­cial, took over the sys­tem late last year.

The Metro sys­tem has un­der­taken an in­tense, sys­temwide safety and main­te­nance project called SafeTrack, which has in­ter­mit­tently closed sta­tions and slowed travel. The project fol­lows years of safety con­cerns and lack­lus­ter ser­vice. Rev­enue has been in de­cline, and this year rid­er­ship dropped by 11 per­cent.

Bowser said Wash­ing­ton, Mary­land and Vir­ginia need to come to­gether to cre­ate a ded­i­cated stream of money to re­solve Metro’s decades of ne­glected main­te­nance. McAuliffe and Ho­gan made clear that they need to see im­prove­ments first. McAuliffe said once he saw the im­prove­ments, he “will be the big­gest cheer­leader” for get­ting the sys­tem more cash.

“Let’s be clear, don’t any­one think that there are any di­vi­sions with us,” McAuliffe said after an hour­long, closed-door meet­ing with Bowser and Ho­gan. “We all love this sys­tem. It’s a huge eco­nomic driver for all three of our ju­ris­dic­tions. But it’s got to be run right.”

Ho­gan de­clined to say whether he would sup­port a new tax for the state’s D.C. sub­urbs in order to keep Metro sol­vent.

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