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Examiner Local Editorial: Transit officials out of touch with financial reality

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Opinion,Local Editorial

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority needs $13.2 billion in capital replacement costs by 2020 -- just seven years from now -- to repair and replace its aging tracks and rail cars. Undaunted by the magnitude of this financial challenge, Metro officials have come up with a $26 billion "wish list" to expand a 103-mile system they can't afford to keep in good working order, despite fare increases and government subsidies. But hey, it's not their money.

This same devil-may-care attitude was on display when WMATA recently published a request for proposals for art projects for the six future stations planned for Phase 2 of the Silver Line. Phase 1 art projects have already been commissioned. The maximum budget for each station, $250,000, will be funded by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is managing the $6 billion Silver Line.

This is the same MWAA that had to offload parking garages onto Fairfax and Loudoun County taxpayers and move the Washington Dulles International Airport station a football field away from the terminal to save money. But it has no problem spending $250,000 on "site-specific artwork" at each station "to promote transit use" to people who are already using transit, or blowing $1.5 million on "public art" for a rail extension that won't even have a maintenance yard or new rail cars when it opens, due to lack of funds.

Meanwhile, Metro's trains are still being operated on herky-jerky manual mode because WMATA doesn't have the money to replace the computerized track circuit system that failed in 2009, causing the fatal Red Line crash. Escalators and elevators throughout the system are still breaking down or out of service, and Metro still isn't running the eight-car trains the system was originally designed to handle. And with pension costs for Metro's 7,000-plus unionized employees exploding 91 percent between fiscal year 2010 and fiscal year 2014, the only thing on Metro's wish list should be "paying the bills," not boring two new tunnels under Georgetown and downtown D.C.

Tunnels beneath Tysons Corner and Dulles Airport had to be shelved because they were too expensive, and even Ron Kirby, director of transportation planning for the transit-friendly Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, admits they have "absolutely no possible prospect of funding." But along with the "public art," they're a perfect example of how ridiculously out of touch with financial reality these two transit agencies have become.

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