Metro’s pro­posed re­forms gain ap­proval

Board de­bated de­lay­ing vote by month

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY JA­SON TIDD

The Na­tional Cap­i­tal Re­gion Trans­porta­tion Plan­ning Board on Wed­nes­day ap­proved Metro’s pro­posed re­forms and push for ded­i­cated fund­ing — but only after de­bat­ing de­lay­ing its vote an­other month.

The board passed a res­o­lu­tion Wed­nes­day en­dors­ing two Met­ro­pol­i­tan Wash­ing­ton Coun­cil of Gov­ern­ments res­o­lu­tions — one sup­port­ing Metro Gen­eral Man­ager Paul Wiede­feld’s re­form plans, the other back­ing a state­ment of prin­ci­ples for the tran­sit agency.

As the re­gion’s fed­er­ally des­ig­nated plan­ning or­ga­ni­za­tion, the board needed to ap­prove Metro’s re­forms be­fore they could be im­ple­mented. Mr. Wei­de­feld has called for $500 mil­lion a year in ded­i­cated fund­ing to make the trou­bled tran­sit sys­tem safer and more re­li­able.

Dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing, board mem­ber R. Earl Lewis, deputy sec­re­tary of the Mary­land De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion, tried un­suc­cess­fully to ta­ble the mo­tion un­til July 19.

“There’s some is­sues with the word­ing [of the res­o­lu­tion] that we would re­ally need to step back and make sure we get it right as we move for­ward, given the com­mit­ments that every­body’s go­ing to even­tu­ally have to make,” Mr. Lewis said.

He noted the phrase “bond­able at the high­est pos­si­ble fi­nan­cial rat­ing” — for the cap­i­tal raised through pro­posed ded­i­cated fund­ing — as one such word­ing is­sue.

“There’s not a tran­sit au­thor­ity in the coun­try I’d be­lieve has a AAA rat­ing,” Mr. Lewis said.

But fel­low board mem­ber Phil Men­del­son, chair­man of the D.C. Coun­cil, pointed out the res­o­lu­tion called for the “high­est pos­si­ble,” not the “high­est.”

An­other board mem­ber sup­ported tabling the mo­tion, not­ing that Mary­land Gov. Larry Ho­gan is out of the coun­try and say­ing Mr. Lewis should speak with the gov­er­nor be­fore vot­ing.

“I would hate to put one of our three ju­ris­dic­tions in the awk­ward po­si­tion of hav­ing to adopt a set of prin­ci­ples without the guid­ance of [its ex­ec­u­tive],” he said.

Board chair Brid­get New­ton, Rockville mayor, said the panel is em­pow­ered to make a de­ci­sion and then dis­cuss it with elected of­fi­cials. “My feel­ing is, why do we have a trans­porta­tion com­mit­tee board if we’re not go­ing to make the hard de­ci­sions and then go lobby for that at the higher level?” Ms. New­ton said.

Mr. Lewis’ tabling mo­tion failed 9-17. The res­o­lu­tion sup­port­ing the coun­cil’s ac­tions passed. An­other res­o­lu­tion, which set fed­er­ally-re­quired per­for­mance-based tar­gets for re­gional tran­sit, also passed.

Board mem­ber Ron Meyer, a Loudoun County su­per­vi­sor, called the res­o­lu­tion sup­port­ing the coun­cil’s ac­tions “a good sign and show of sup­port for GM Wiede­feld’s ac­tion.”

Last week, Mr. Wiede­feld told re­gional lead­ers that Metro needs $15.5 bil­lion in cap­i­tal fund­ing over the next 10 years to pay for new and re­built rail­cars and buses, tracks, safety im­prove­ments and other items. He also noted that Metro has elim­i­nated 800 jobs, adding that any more cuts would di­rectly im­pact ser­vice.

Mr. Meyer noted Wed­nes­day how Metro em­ploy­ees are now con­sid­ered “at will,” which al­lows for greater ac­count­abil­ity and ter­mi­na­tions. Metro has also elim­i­nated 800 po­si­tions, ac­cord­ing to pre­sen­ta­tions on Mr. Wiede­feld’s plan, “Keep­ing Metro Safe, Re­li­able and Af­ford­able.”

“Some of th­ese things are not small at all,” Mr. Meyer said. “I mean, the fact that Metro is fir­ing peo­ple that are do­ing wrong things for the first time in a long time sends a re­ally strong sig­nal.”

Mr. Meyer also said that re­gional gov­ern­ments need to be “more cre­ative” to over­come “many po­ten­tial com­pli­ca­tions” with cap­i­tal fund­ing. A sales tax might work in Vir­ginia if of­fi­cials re­place the cur­rent cap­i­tal con­tri­bu­tions from lo­cal­i­ties with a sales tax and do not im­ple­ment a sales tax on ar­eas 100 miles from a Metro sta­tion, he said.

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