No time to waste for Metro

The gov­er­nors of Mary­land and Vir­ginia must act now — or be re­spon­si­ble for eco­nomic de­cline.

The Washington Post - - POWER POST -

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.

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