No time to waste for Metro
The governors of Maryland and Virginia must act now — or be responsible for economic decline.
STOPGAPS AND temporizing will not fix Metro, but until lately they have been the best that elected officials could offer in the face of the transit system’s long-term descent. Two recent events provide a glimmer of hope for a rethink. The first is the outcome of Virginia’s elections, in which the Republican stranglehold in the state legislature — long presumed to be immutable, or close to it — was suddenly weakened. Having held nearly two-thirds of the seats in the House of Delegates, the GOP, whose knee-jerk opposition to raising taxes to fund Metro was regarded as beyond discussion, was apparently left clinging to the thinnest of majorities — perhaps just 51 of the chamber’s 100 seats.
If in the next House elections, in 2019, Republicans want to gamble with the tiny handful of seats they still control in Northern Virginia, a good way to do it would be to stick to their anti-Metro orthodoxy. No, the region’s electorate does not consist of single-issue voters, but you can bet that saving Metro from falling further into disrepair is one topic that motivates a lot of constituents.
The second hopeful event was the issuance of a report this month that exposed as bunk many of the excuses favored by foot-dragging politicians. The idea that Metro is wildly profligate, or mismanaged, or provides terrible service, compared with similar transit systems elsewhere in the country, was examined by the report’s author, former transportation secretary (and Republican congressman) Ray LaHood, and dismissed.
Mr. LaHood did find that Metro’s governing body, an unwieldy, parochial, 16-member board, should be streamlined. Yet his basic conclusion — that Metro urgently needs a new, earmarked means of raising $500 million more annually to return the system to a state of good repair and keep it there — was the overarching takeaway, amply supported by evidence.
Now Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who commissioned the LaHood report, must formulate a plan of action. Yes, he is leaving office in January, and elections will take place in a year for the state Senate. But lawmakers must be challenged now to fix the nation’s second-busiest transit system.
Likewise, in Maryland, it is time for Gov. Larry Hogan to act. Mr. Hogan, after giving Metro the back of his hand last summer, stepped up in September with a challenge to the system’s other stakeholders: Maryland would pony up $125 million annually for four years if Virginia, the District and the federal government all did likewise.
Mr. Hogan’s blueprint was flawed; it contained no dedicated, ongoing funding and was dismissed by federal officials as unrealistic even though about 2 in 5 rush-hour passengers on Metro are federal workers. Still, it was a useful conversation starter and, coming from a Republican governor, pressure generator.
The perennial excuses about election-year calendars, tight budgets and political alignments are obsolete. Metro, the Washington area’s infrastructural linchpin, is teetering on the brink. Either officials get serious, now, about a long-term rescue or explain why they’ve set the stage for the region’s economic decline.