Commentary: Economy’s Reliance on Metro

Commentary: Economy’s Reliance on Metro

It is no surprise that Northern Virginia’s economic growth is directly tied to our region’s transit network. It is our transit system that provides the critical links between businesses and their employees, customers, suppliers and investors. Sixty percent of jobs are within a quarter mile of a Metro station, rail station or bus stop, and one third of Metro riders live within a half mile of a station.

Our transit system is moving approximately 550,000 people on an average weekday in Northern Virginia, saving the region 35.5 million hours of congestion-related traffic delays annually. Most significantly, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and and the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) provide over $600 million per year to the Commonwealth in sales and income tax revenues, according to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) briefing to elected officials on Monday.

It’s not news to any of us that WMATA is in trouble. It needs $15.5 billion over the next 10 years for capital improvements. Metrorail is a $40 billion asset and suffering from years of delayed and deferred maintenance.

Metro is the backbone of Northern Virginia’s transportation network and a failure to invest in WMATA threatens the economic vitality of both Northern Virginia and the entire Commonwealth.

Our legislature needs to make a serious effort to create a multi-year, stable and bondable revenue source to allow WMATA to address critical safety and repair projects and ensure our Commonwealth continues to support its local jurisdictions’ share of WMATA capital and operating costs using the funds that provide finance flexibility.

Virginia also needs to continue matching any federal funding for WMATA, through the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, and maintain the current capital allocation formula to ensure that Virginia’s financial commitments are consistent with our ridership, stations and population.

There are also some reforms that I and the NVTC believe could boost WMATA’s success. First we need to have a WMATA Board that represents the local funding jurisdictions and includes a range of elected and non-elected officials. I also urge WMATA to make continuous reviews of its policies regarding conflict of interests and fiduciary responsibility in its decision making. Finally, we should eliminate the jurisdictional veto, so long as there is a Project Labor Agreement in place to provide Metro workers in every region a collective bargaining agreement.

This will be a top priority in transportation policy for the entire General Assembly in the 2018 Session and I look forward to working with my colleagues to keep Metro working for all Virginians.