Maryland lawmakers joined the governments of Washington, D.C., and Virginia yesterday in a final approval to jointly provide up to $500 million annually to fund the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in a historic funding decision that could boost the floundering system’s recovery efforts.
The Virginia general assembly pledged $154 million per year to Metro funding on March 7 on the condition that Maryland and D.C. also increase their contributions. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) pledged $178 million per year in her State of the District address on March 15.
The decision was part of a negotiation between Virginia, Maryland and D.C.’s whereby each party would provide the $500 million that Metro’s leadership argued is necessary to make Metrorail a world-class system.
The funding will be used to combat longstanding failures within the Metro system by improving rail cars and buses, replacing older equipment and catching up on delayed repairs across the 50-year old system.
The joint provision marks the first time Metro has had a stable source of funding since it was established in 1967. In the absence of a dedicated funding source, Metro has relied on the D.C. local government and seven other local and state jurisdictions for funding. Each government calculates its funding contribution based on population density, average weekday ridership and the number of stations operating in each region.
Metro has resorted to fare increases and service cuts to make up for financial shortfalls due to insufficient funding and declining ridership.
Rip Sullivan Jr. (D-Fairfax), a member of the Virginia house of delegates and one of the six negotiators in the joint conference that produced the final bill in Virginia, emphasized the importance of the agreement.
“There are people who called it a historic piece of legislation and I think in some senses it is, because Metro’s been around,” Sullivan said in an interview with The Hoya. “It’s never had this kind of predictability with its funding, and that’s a game changer going forward.”
Maryland pledged $167 million to Metro funding Thursday, becoming the final member of the negotiation to pledge the full requested amount.
In addition to the $500 million pledged between D.C., Virginia and Maryland, the federal government’s omnibus federal spending bill includes a $150 million provision for capital spending, an amount the White House had suggested to reduce. The bill passed the House of Representatives on Thursday afternoon and the Senate early Friday morning.
Metro has long argued that it’s lack of a dedicated funding source has prevented it from proper repairs, renovations and maintenance, while critics of Metro’s performance have pinned blame on poor management and unethical behavior.
Sullivan said that there is no dispute among jurisdictions about the proportional amounts they are expected to contribute, which was decided by a formula that accounted for ridership, number of Metro stations and other factors.
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld praised the decision, which he said will boost WMATA’s service.
“On behalf of all Metro customers and employees, as well as the communities whose economic well-being depends on a safe, reliable Metro system, we are truly grateful,” Wiedfeld wrote in a Washington Post article March 10.
Sullivan echoed Wiedefeld’s commitment to improving the safety and reliability of the Metro system.
“Reliability and safety — those are the two most important issues, obviously safety being first, reliability being second. Getting those two issues addressed will necessarily lead to increased ridership, more confidence from riders in the system, and stop the bleeding and get people back riding the Metro,” Sullivan said.
The Virginia bill passed with a substantial majority, earning it praise for its bipartisanship.
Sullivan said that he was pleased that both parties recognized the importance of Metro funding for Virginia and that he hopes annual funding for the Metro will result in meaningful change for the system.
Bowser echoed Sullivan’s sentiments in her March 15 State of the District address, saying that D.C. would provide the proportional funding in the effort to continue to modernize the city.
“We’re also focused on exploring the big ideas that will keep Washington, D.C., moving forward and at the forefront of innovation and change,” Bowser said in her address. “So along with the Mayor of Metro, Jack Evans, and all of you, we’re going all in and fully funding Metro for our future. At $178 million — the amount the District needs to contribute to finally solve the dedicated revenue problem that has held our system back for years and years.”
The bill was met with opposition from those who believe that the Metro funding will take away from funding for other local infrastructure projects in northern Virginia.
“There has been some concern expressed by people that it takes too much from existing funds that would otherwise go to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to do transit and other transportation-type projects around northern Virginia,” Sullivan said.
Republicans in Virginia have been skeptical about investing in public transit.
“I was concerned the General Assembly would rob Peter to pay Paul for Metro,” Loudoun Supervisor Matthew Letourneau (R-Dulles) said in the March 10 Washington Post article. “By raiding even more funding already earmarked for transportation projects in Northern Virginia, this bill doesn’t just rob Peter, it pillages him.”
Hoya Staff Writer Madeline Charbonneau contributed reporting.