- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 20, 2019


What’s going on at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, commonly called Metro? Far too much to encapsulate in a single column or news report.

Suffice for this purpose to say the problem began with its genesis and remains unchanged. Or in a word, politics.

Washington’s political establishment created the National Capital Transit Agency in 1960, Congress funded money for Metrorail, the president signed off on it, and a federal bureaucracy called the National Capital Planning Commission came in as overseers. Also involved in that oversight are several federal, state and D.C. agencies.

You know how government is: Congress is a poker player. No agency shall reveal its hand before it’s time. Well, it’s time.

At the National Capital Planning Commission table are seats for: three presidential appointees, two D.C. mayoral appointees, the secretaries of defense and the interior, the administrator of the federal General Services Administration, the Senate, the House, the mayor and the chairman of the D.C. Council.

On Metro’s board, seats are allocated for eight voting and eight alternate directors from the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia region, and the federal government.

Also having a voice: the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the Board of Trade, the chambers of commerce, law enforcement, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, the governors, county executives, local mayors and their legislative bodies. Oh, and labor unions and assorted other lobbyists.

Metro, which first opened in 1976, is the third-largest rail system in the nation, behind only New York City and Chicago — and for the most part, the trains move the masses on time and safely. Metrorail has become a national rail system by virtue of this being the nation’s capital.

Sure, it has experienced unfortunate deadly and scary mishaps. But, fortunately, few and far between. And, like any unrestrained bureaucracy, Metro’s overseers see and hear only when the alarms are set off.

Such as when a rider died from smoke inhalation, and the entire system was in dire need of major capital improvements and sought “dedicated” infusions of tax dollars. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan stepped up and pointed to the path for D.C. and Virginia, too.

The latest “crisis” is that Metro’s board chairman, D.C. Council member Jack Evans, first denied, then conceded he broke Metro ethics rules. (I suggested months ago that he resign. He said he will next week, when the board holds elections.)

Mayor Muriel Bowser did not, as Mr. Hogan did, call for Mr. Evans to resign, citing possible political influence. Well, don’t be fooled, American taxpayers and stakeholders. Madam Obvious proved she’s adept at playing Washington poker.

Two of the mayor’s blue buddies, Democratic Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, buttered the bread of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments about congressional financial support for Metrorail.

Metrorail began as a national rail system, primarily because the nation’s capital is the seat of the national government. The needs of non-federal D.C, Maryland and Virginia barely were noted. Back then, it was on the Capital Beltway and getting motorists around — not into — the city.

More important is that not much is being said about Metrorail’s connections — Metrobus routes, county connector routes, Amtrak connector routes, connections and highway roads needed to connect to not only Metrorail stations but also the Beltway and the interstates.

Are the folks seated at the various tables where mass transit funding, oversight and accountability are discussed paying attention?

Nope. They’re playing Washington poker — and you’re paying for their chips with your “dedicated” tax dollars regardless of your ZIP code.

There’s got to be a way to limit the number of players.

⦁ Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]

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