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The stench on the Hill

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Area transit authorities and congressional leaders have got to be kidding. They want American taxpayers to buy additional rail cars and to finance a slew of Metro maintenance projects, new capital improvement proposals and dozens of personnel hirings. The Metro wish list doesn't end there. In fact, General Manager John Catoe also has a 44-item to-do list, which includes adding 65 vehicles to the Metro Access fleet for door-to-door disabled service. And that just covers the next several years. There's no denying the requests address Metro needs — such as the expectation that the rail system will need 220 new rail cars to avoid exceeding capacity 12 years from now. But to expect taxpayers to foot the bills without an accompanying and concrete pay-as-you-go proposal is irresponsible. Don't transit officials and Congress realize that it's becoming harder and harder for Americans to bring home the bacon?

Rep. Tom Davis is oinking as loudly as any Democrat — and he's a Republican. In a March 30 letter to the editor in The Washington Post, Mr. Davis said that "Metro is teetering on the brink. It's 32 years old, and many of the original components are beginning to break down. We have to decide right now whether we want to maintain a world-class transit system here or watch it slowly deteriorate to the point where commuters will resist using it and its value as a strategic asset for disaster management in the nation's capital will be gone." Mr. Davis concludes by saying his legislation, the National Capital Transportation Amendments Act, which earmarks (oink, oink) $1.5 billion in federal money over 10 years, is "sensible, fiscally prudent and critical legislation." Begging the congressman's pardon, but what that legislation is is pigswill.

Metro is not teetering, as it proves day in and out, and on numerous occasions when commuters, mass demonstrations, marathons, multiple major sports events and parades and the like all converge in the capital. As for disaster management: Sure, Sept. 11, 2001, forced us to think more regionally than ever before. But let's also face other facts: Virginia and Maryland have been too slow to meet the demands of their very own commuters because state authorities and congressmen all too often curtsy to the premise that the problem is an insufficient and "teetering" transit system. The problem is the lack of planning by the powers-that-be in Maryland and Virginia.

For certain, Mr. Davis is spot on when he says the time to decide is "right now." But Metro doesn't need larger subsidies; it needs its Maryland and Virginia caretakers, seven-day-a-week commuters and mass-transit-dependent users to plan and divvy up. Are fare and parking increases even on the table? What about reform?

Tethering Metro's lifeline to larger and larger federal subsidies is not the answer. Frankly, that's like expecting pigwash to smell like bacon frying in a cast iron skillet.