The Metro system is a major asset to the economic success of the National Capital Region, but it needs help, lots of it, now. That was the message of Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) meeting last week. There are only seven major metro systems in the nation, he noted, and the Washington system is the second largest, with 117 miles of track.
Chairman Evans said that Metro was built with two fundamental flaws: it’s a two-track system, and it has no dedicated funding source. With a two track system (essentially one track in and one track out), there is no ability to re-route trains to another track to accommodate repairs or emergencies. As Metro and its riders have learned, segments of lines must be shut down to perform the long-term maintenance that the 40-year-old system needs. Perhaps the greatest challenge, however, is that Metro is the only system without a dedicated funding source. Some systems use special tax districts, fees from public parking garages, sales taxes, or state and municipal funding. Since 35 percent of Metro riders are federal employees, Chairman Evans argues that Congress should enact legislation to allocate $300 million a year from Congress. Currently, Evans said, the federal government puts no money into Metro operations; $900 million a year comes from the fare box (train and bus), and another $900 million a year is the responsibility of three jurisdictions in the Metro Compact: the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.
Concluding his remarks to the COG Board, Evans had several “asks” – $300 million a year from Congress; have the federal government assume Metro’s $2.5 billion unfunded pension liability; the three jurisdictions agree to contribute to a dedicated funding source; adopt a Metro Safety Commission Compact (a state legislative action), and convene a group to study building a new tunnel under the Potomac at Roslyn. The existing tunnel, which can handle only 26 trains per hour, is a major bottleneck to service between Virginia and D.C. Capacity needs to increase to 40 trains an hour, Evans said. A second Metro Symposium to discuss needs and resources will be held on June 13. Working together, the region created the original Metro Compact decades ago; similar efforts will be required to ensure that Metro survives its current challenges. It will be tough, but failure is not an option.
I had heard about Honor Flight, the non-profit organization dedicated to bringing veterans to visit the various war memorials in Washington, D. C., honoring their service and sacrifice, but I had never participated in one. Until last Friday, that is, when I was part of a small welcoming party at National Airport. The World War II and Korean War veterans were from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, where I grew up. Some veterans were in wheelchairs or walkers, but many walked off the plane on their own, dressed in bright blue Honor Flight T-shirts and baseball caps with their particular war embroidered on the front. As I shook hands with the 40 or so elderly men, I thought of my father, who served in both those wars. These could have been his contemporaries, which made the experience even more poignant. You can learn more about Honor Flights at www.honorflight.org.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]