- The Washington Times - Friday, November 29, 2002

Wishful thinking is one thing. Slapping taxpayers (and commuters) in the face quite another. And a slap in the face is probably the best way to describe the through-the-looking glass transit expansion plan put forward by Metro. The plan envisions a stupendous $12.2 billion outlay for light rail to Tysons Corner and Dulles Airport, as well as a massive expansion of existing Metro capacity, with less than $2 billion available to finance all this.

Even the estimated $4 billion it will cost to establish a light-rail route to Tysons Corner and Dulles alone would cost double the amount of funds Metro has available for such purposes. Where, exactly, will the remaining billions come from for this one project? And the $10 billion for the balance of Metro's wish list? Nobody knows. Officials made vague intimations about federal assistance, a new tax district along the proposed light-rail corridor, as well as tolls and other wildly over-hopeful accounting gimcracks.

The stark reality is that the District, Virginia and Maryland all face deficits and shortfalls. It is unlikely that substantial sums of money will be available for Metro improvements in the near future, when each state is having trouble meeting existing needs. New taxes are simply unacceptable in the middle of a recession and untenable politically. Therefore, the expansion plan put forward by Metro is little better than a fantasy that won't do a thing to ease worsening gridlock, now or in the future.

Metro, by its own admission, hardly has the means to run the eight-car trains that the system was designed to operate even to keep the existing trains running on time. Yet, the plan bankrupt from the get-go was approved by the Metro board as if it were somehow remotely feasible. Prince George's County Metro board member John Davey told The Washington Post that "It's clear this is a sound plan and a vision for where we need to proceed." At the same time he admitted, "It's equally clear none of the jurisdictions have the resources." Metro's board chairman said: "It's a little like saying, 'If we had ham, we could make ham and eggs, if we had eggs,' but we have to move ahead."

The question is, how? And if the "how" has not been answered, the rest is irrelevant. As Bill Vincent of the Breakthrough Technologies Institute put it: "It's disappointing to see this mixed message … On one hand, we barely have enough money to maintain the existing system, and on the other hand, we're going to shoot for this pie-in-the-sky" project.

The Metro board needs to get its feet back on the ground and come up with realistic plans for coping with the area's transportation problems, including raising fares.

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