- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board on Wednesday approved Metro’s proposed reforms and push for dedicated funding — but only after debating delaying its vote another month.

The board passed a resolution Wednesday endorsing two Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments resolutions — one supporting Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s reform plans, the other backing a statement of principles for the transit agency.

As the region’s federally designated planning organization, the board needed to approve Metro’s reforms before they could be implemented. Mr. Weidefeld has called for $500 million a year in dedicated funding to make the troubled transit system safer and more reliable.

During Wednesday’s meeting, board member R. Earl Lewis, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, tried unsuccessfully to table the motion until July 19.

“There’s some issues with the wording [of the resolution] that we would really need to step back and make sure we get it right as we move forward, given the commitments that everybody’s going to eventually have to make,” Mr. Lewis said.

He noted the phrase “bondable at the highest possible financial rating” — for the capital raised through proposed dedicated funding — as one such wording issue.

“There’s not a transit authority in the country I’d believe has a AAA rating,” Mr. Lewis said.

But fellow board member Phil Mendelson, chairman of the D.C. Council, pointed out the resolution called for the “highest possible,” not the “highest.”

Another board member supported tabling the motion, noting that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is out of the country and saying Mr. Lewis should speak with the governor before voting.

“I would hate to put one of our three jurisdictions in the awkward position of having to adopt a set of principles without the guidance of [its executive],” he said.

Board chair Bridget Newton, Rockville mayor, said the panel is empowered to make a decision and then discuss it with elected officials.

“My feeling is, why do we have a transportation committee board if we’re not going to make the hard decisions and then go lobby for that at the higher level?” Ms. Newton said.

Mr. Lewis’ tabling motion failed 9-17. The resolution supporting the council’s actions passed. Another resolution, which set federally-required performance-based targets for regional transit, also passed.

Board member Ron Meyer, a Loudoun County supervisor, called the resolution supporting the council’s actions “a good sign and show of support for GM Wiedefeld’s action.”

Last week, Mr. Wiedefeld told regional leaders that Metro needs $15.5 billion in capital funding over the next 10 years to pay for new and rebuilt railcars and buses, tracks, safety improvements and other items. He also noted that Metro has eliminated 800 jobs, adding that any more cuts would directly impact service.

Mr. Meyer noted Wednesday how Metro employees are now considered “at will,” which allows for greater accountability and terminations. Metro has also eliminated 800 positions, according to presentations on Mr. Wiedefeld’s plan, “Keeping Metro Safe, Reliable and Affordable.”

“Some of these things are not small at all,” Mr. Meyer said. “I mean, the fact that Metro is firing people that are doing wrong things for the first time in a long time sends a really strong signal.”

Mr. Meyer also said that regional governments need to be “more creative” to overcome “many potential complications” with capital funding. A sales tax might work in Virginia if officials replace the current capital contributions from localities with a sales tax and do not implement a sales tax on areas 100 miles from a Metro station, he said.

“We have to get past just the throwing bombs at each other, rhetorically, from one jurisdiction to another and show that we are unified behind good decisions being made,” he said.

Metro is the only major transit system in the nation without a dedicated source for funding, such as a transit tax. It relies mostly on subsidies from jurisdictions in Maryland, Virginia and the District, as well as the federal government.

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