To help Virginia address Metro’s ongoing litany of safety, maintenance and cost issues, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has commissioned a formal, independent review of the entire system.
Former U.S. Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood, whom the governor’s office described as a “transportation expert that can bring an objective look at this situation without the bias of any jurisdiction,” will lead the review of Metro, also known as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).
“We all know WMATA has faced some very serious problems over the past few years, and we need to take a hard look at where we can reform the agency to better support the region’s residents and its economy,” McAuliffe said in a statement. “I have the utmost confidence in Secretary LaHood and I will support the recommendations that result from this top-to-bottom independent review. It’s long past time to make smart reforms that ensure WMATA’s financial stability and long-term success.”
More than one million people ride the system daily, including more than 300,000 in Virginia. Metro’s Silver Line is under construction in Loudoun and service is expected to begin in spring 2020. Because of Metro’s ongoing rash of issues that have impacted its budget, Loudoun will be responsible for providing an estimated $31.5 million more annually than what was anticipated when the county’s Board of Supervisors voted 5-4 to partake in the expansion to Loudoun back in 2012.
Metro’s long-term financial stability will be a focal point of the review and has been a major concern in Loudoun and across all jurisdictions served by the system. Metro is facing a budget shortfall of close to $300 million this fiscal year and is undertaking massive safety and repair work initiatives after decades of neglect. These construction projects have ballooned costs and accelerated a loss in ridership, which has further compounded the system’s financial woes.
The review will also evaluate governance by the Metro Board of Directors as well as the system’s labor policies, both of which have received criticism from local politicians. Completion is expected by November, with McAuliffe still in office, and will include executive and legislative recommendations. Several federal lawmakers, including Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine (D) have publically advocated for increased federal funding of the operational costs of Metro, which is one of the only such mass transit systems in the country that doesn’t have a dedicated funding source from local governments. President Donald Trump’s proposed FY18 budget hasn’t specifically mentioned Metro or the $150 million it annually receives for capital improvement projects, but it does call for a 13 percent cut to the federal Department of Transportaiton.
Many lawmakers in areas of Virginia serviced by Metro have been receptive to allocating more state funds, but there has been little enthusiasm from other legislators around the state. In a release, McAuliffe said he has reached out to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Washington D.C. Mayor Murial Bowser (D) to support the review, though the extent of their involvement or financial commitments remains to be seen.