Time for Massive Investment in Metro, Commitment to Long-Term Expansion

Time for Massive Investment in Metro, Commitment to Long-Term Expansion


During the debate over building the Silver Line, in addition to pushing for an underground/”tunnel” option for the Tysons portion of the line, many of us (myself included) raised questions about whether it was wise for Metro to expand the system, even as the aging core system desperately needs billions of dollars worth of investment.

Now, after one incident after another – delays, breakdowns, fires (including one that killed a passenger), seemingly-constant track work and “single tracking,” extremely slow service on weekends, unreliable service at many other times – the Metro system that used to be one of the shining jewels of the DC Metro area has now hit rock bottom (I mean, let’s hope it can’t go even lower), with the announcement yesterday that the entire Metrorail system would be shut down from midnight Tuesday until 5 am Thursday morning, so that workers can inspect the types of power cables that caused Monday’s fire near McPherson Square.

What happened to this former crown jewel, one that we used to take pride in showing off to out-of-town guests? First, here’s Greater Greater Washington’s take:

Ronit Dancis said, “Elected officials take note: this is what happens when you don’t fund maintenance of public infrastructure and public utilities.”

While many riders often rightly blame past WMATA managers and safety officials, there’s no doubt that this situation was able to become so dire over time because local and federal governments underfunded maintenance for decades after the system was built. They were able to put less into upkeep without penalty, because things weren’t breaking. Now, so much is broken.

Also see Greater Greater Washington’s analysis of how “unbalanced growth” is killing us, and how “for every year the western edge of the region grows much faster than the east side, we’re digging a bigger hole.”

Now, here’s what the Coalition for Smarter Growth has to say:

“It took years for Metrorail to end up in this situation, where maintenance underfunding left us with the problems we see today. Clearly, we have a ways to go to repair Metro’s aging systems. The new General Manager Paul Wiedefeld has shown he is willing to take the tough and bold steps necessary to focus the staff on making the critical fixes the system needs, and to keep the system safe — in this case on an emergency basis.

We are all in this together. So let’s deal with the emergency shutdown with a can-do attitude – turning to bus, VRE/MARC, carpools, telecommuting, bicycles and walking. At the same time, Metrobus and local bus systems must ensure that there is adequate service all day and in the late evening for those who are completely transit-dependent.

Certainly, we will see on Wednesday just how important Metro is to our region – to our transportation system and our economy. We may also realize amid the expected traffic gridlock tomorrow why dedicated bus lanes would offer a great way to move more people, faster and more reliably than the current bus in traffic model.

We hope that the ongoing challenges facing Metro will prompt our elected leaders to work together to provide the funding necessary to fix longstanding maintenance and rehabilitation problems. Failure is not an option.

I couldn’t agree more, and really this applies to all of our nation’s infrastructure: a) “failure is not an option;” and b) we need to provide “the funding necessary to fix longstanding maintenance and rehabilitation problems.”

But that’s just the bare minimum. In fact, what we REALLY need as a region and as a country is massive investment in our transportation and other infrastructure. Sure this will “cost” money (although with interest rates at rock-bottom lows, it’s not quite “free money” but it’s cheap to borrow right now!), but remember it’s an INVESTMENT, so that “cost” will pay back 10 times, 20 times, 100 times over coming decades. Investment in “greener” solutions is also imperative, as we are in an emergency situation with regard to global warming and need to ditch fossil fuels ASAP. That means shifting massive resources away from highway construction and towards electric-powered transit options like Metro. Then, we need to switch the electricity used to power Metro 100% to clean energy as rapidly as possible.

As for Metro, specifically, we obviously need to invest billions of dollars in the system. And, almost needless to say, we need to do that cost effectively and strategically. Also, once we get the current system back to where it should be, we also need to think BIG about where the Metro system needs to moving forward. For instance, see Metro planners consider building ‘inner loop’ of new stations to alleviate congestion and Metro proposes $26 billion overhaul for the scale of what we’re talking about is needed.

Would this level of investment be worth it? Uh, yeah! If you doubt that, think about what the D.C. metro region would look like right now WITHOUT Metrorail. For instance, how would the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor look without Metrorail? How would the Blue Line corridor from Rosslyn to Franconia-Springfield or the Yellow Line corridor to Huntington look without Metrorail? Hard to imagine, right?

Now, picture what this region would look like if: a) the Metro system got back to the gleaming, iconic status of its early years; and b) it expanded so that we had a system that covered a lot more ground (I’d focus first on the “core,” but ultimately one could imagine trains heading into Prince William County, ideally hooking in with high-speed rail to Richmond and beyond), with trains coming quickly and reliably 7 days a week? Wouldn’t that be amazing, and also a great alternative to hundreds of thousands of cars spewing out planet-killing exhaust fumes?

So what on earth are we waiting for? Today’s Metrorail shutdown should be a huge wakeup call; it’s time for Congress and regional governments to make this a top priority, stop dragging their heels, and get to work building a transportation system worthy of the capital of the wealthiest, most powerful country in human history.