Posts about WMATA Compact
The proposed WMATA cuts for the remainder of the current fiscal year threaten to throw Metro into a "death spiral."
Widening headways from 12 to 15 minutes weekdays and Saturdays, from 15 to 20 Sundays, and worst of all from 20 to 30 late nights (15 to 20 on the Red Line) could drive more people to drive, especially in the parts of the system where lines don't double up.
In the more park-and-ride sections of the system, driving is already a fairly appealing alternative, and this would make it even more appealing; in walkable areas without doubled lines, like the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor or the Green Line from Waterfront to River East, the rail system is foundational to property values and future growth.
Meanwhile, WMATA also proposes eliminating 8-car trains during the peak. The peak rush is the time where Metrorail recovers the largest proportion of its costs (around 90%), and where trains are already fullest. Before the economic crisis, Metro was talking about growing all trains to 8 cars.
This change would reduce Orange Line capacity by 9%, but rail ridership has only declined 5%, and Orange trains are still crush loaded. Platforms are often crowded to the point of becoming dangerous. Unless Metro has more data to prove that there's enough room for everyone on the trains, this change is likely to reduce ridership, likely losing the majority of the savings through lower fare collections.
The rail cuts would only save $4 million. I'm sure there are some administrative cuts to be made (WMATA has more administrative assistants than the local DOTs, for example), but probably not $4 million immediately. We can't keep taking all the costs out of the WMATA budget. Transit is a vital service that we can't simply slash when times are tough.
The Washington region would not be the thriving metropolis it is today without the Metro system and good transit in general. It was a large contributor to reversing the decline of downtown DC, Rosslyn-Ballston, and inner Montgomery County communities, and has enabled substantial economic growth without enormous and expensive new freeway construction. Our governments have to contribute to supporting this vital service, and WMATA Board members should start talking publicly about this.
In fact, according to the WMATA Compact, local jurisdictions are obligated to cover any budget shortfalls:
25. Adoption and Distribution of Budgets.If I'm reading this correctly, that means that technically, WMATA could simply fail to close the budget gap, and DC, the Washington Suburban Transit District (paid for by the State of Maryland) and the Northern Virginia Transportation District (paid for by Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax City, and Fairfax County) would have to budget money to cover it.
(b) Each budget shall indicate the amounts, if any, required from the federal government, the Government of the District of Columbia, the Washington Suburban Transit District and the component governments of the Northern Virginia Transportation District, determined in accordance with the commitments made pursuant to Article VII, Section 18 of this Title, to balance each of said budgets.
Subject to such review and approval as may be required by their budgetary or other applicable processes, the federal government, the Government of the District of Columbia, the Washington Suburban Transit District, and the component governments of the Northern Virginia Transportation District shall include their respective budgets next to be adopted and appropriate or otherwise provide the amounts certified to each of them as set forth in the budgets.
Of course, this won't happen, at the very least because the Governor of Maryland controls the Maryland Board members, and the Governor doesn't want to pay more for transit for an area that's not the political epicenter of the state. The other members would likely have some political obstacles with their local jurisdictions as well. But that shouldn't stop them from talking about it. The local governments officially do have an obligation to cover this.
They might not be able to come up with money mid-year, but there are ways to deal with that. WMATA could divert some of their preventative maintenance money or reserve fund balance to close the gap (and this budget proposal already includes some of that in addition to the cuts). That could impact future service, so they should push jurisdictions to pay it back in the future over a set number of years, either through cash or bus priority improvements.
There's a tacit silence right now between the Board and jurisdictional governments (partly because they're often the same people) about jurisdictions' obligations and the fact that transit benefits non-riders as well as riders by taking cars off the roads. It's time to break the silence.
financing fell through to buy the vacant commercial building at 14th and T. In December, an exciting proposal by Tryst, Diner, and Open City owner Constantine Stavropoulous to share the building among a diner, comedy club, yoga studio and dance company lost out to Room and Board. Will Stavropoulous be able to resurrect his original plan and bring more food and arts to 14th Street? (Tip: Scott G.)
Brown dreams of a DC covered in parking lots: New at-large Councilmember Michael Brown told the Kalorama Citizens' Association he wants to use public money to build municipal parking like Montgomery County's, the Current reports. Why is DC's newest member of the WMATA board eager to spend public money to make DC even more car-centric? As we learned from my interview with Brown before the election, Brown's heart is in the right place on transit, but he doesn't understand the relationship between subsidizing parking and discouraging transit use. Maybe that's because he can't remember the last time he rode Metro? (Tip: Reid.)
Would it have been the iPod wing? The U.S. Commission on Fine Arts has rejected a glass-box addition to the historic Mount Pleasant library. Anti-preservation Marc Fisher calls opponents the "taste police". What do you think?
Dueling Compact bills both pass: The Virginia legislature has passed both versions of the WMATA compact amendments, the "you get the house anyway" version and the "you get it as long as you pay for it" version matching DC's. Governor Kaine could sign Maryland Delegate Anna Sol Gutierrez (D-Mongtomery) has introduced the latter version in the Maryland House; the no-strings version is also in play there. All three jurisdictions have to pass the same one for anything to take effect.
How about some transit, PG? The Post's Get There is enthusiastic about Maryland's plans to widen MD-5 (Branch Avenue) south of the Beltway. It's too bad they doesn't recognize the problems in Prince George's headlong rush to sprawl. However, the Post does recommend toll or HOT lanes with transit. That's a step.
How about some transit, eastern shore? Maryland is thinking about adding a third span to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, since so many people drive across it in summer. BeyondDC points out that if so many people are driving from DC to Ocean City, Route 50 BRT could move them all in much less space and much lower cost.
Why no Brookland deck: Richard Layman explains why decking over the railroad tracks around Brookland, as some neighbors want, is really not feasible.
Whither dead big boxes? Infrastructurist looks at reuse opportunities for empty big-box retail sites. Over in Brookland, residents have been discussing possibilities for the empty National Wholesale Liquidators store, the central anchor of a very suburban strip mall on Rhode Island Avenue.
If you were selling a house, and had agreed on a price with the buyer, would you decide to simply transfer the house to the buyer before they'd even signed a contract or put down a deposit? If your realtor told you that you have to give the buyer the house, because if not they might decide not to buy, you'd tell the realtor to take a hike and find a new realtor. Some of Maryland's House and Senate members, however, are in essence asking DC, Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, and Northern Virginia to do just that with Metro funding and seats on the WMATA Board.
Last year, WMATA's jurisdictions and Congress struck a deal. The federal government would contribute $150 million a year over ten years to Metro's capital and maintenance needs. In exchange, the three jurisdictions would match it, $50 million a year from each of DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Also, the feds would receive two seats on the WMATA Board of Directors.
To implement this change, each of DC, Maryland, and Virginia must amend the WMATA Compact. The federal law authorizing this (all the way at the bottom) says,
No amounts may be provided to the Transit Authority pursuant to the authorization under this section until the Transit Authority notifies the Secretary of Transportation that each of the following amendments to the Compact ... have taken effect:The DC Council passed a bill first. Written by Councilmember Jim Graham, it amends the compact to include the three items above. It also specifies that, if the federal government does not actually pony up the promised $150 million, then the federal representatives don't get to participate on the Board. If everyone follows through on the deal, everyone gets what was promised. If not, the feds don't get a vote. If you're selling your house and the buyer discovers they can't get a mortgage, you don't still have to give them the house anyway.
(1)(A) An amendment requiring that all payments by the local signatory governments ... for the purpose of matching any Federal funds ... are made from amounts derived from dedicated funding sources. ...
(2) An amendment establishing an Office of the Inspector General of the Transit Authority.
(3) An amendment expanding the Board of Directors of the Transit Authority to include 4 additional Directors appointed by the Administrator of General Services, of whom 2 shall be nonvoting and 2 shall be voting, and requiring one of the voting members so appointed to be a regular passenger and customer of the bus or rail service of the Transit Authority.
The danger comes because the federal bill only "authorizes" funding. It doesn't "appropriate" the funding. Congress could very well never actually pay anything, or pay much less than promised. But meanwhile, local taxpayers would lose influence over Metro operations. The board seats represent some, perhaps small, amount of leverage. Giving seats away without more of a guarantee of funding tosses that leverage away.
Delegate Adam Ebbin of Arlington introduced an identical bill, but then suddenly substituted a different version. That version simply adds federal representatives with no strings attached. (Both texts are here; click on the "HB2596" tab for the original, and the "HB2596H1" tab for the substitute.) According to sources familiar with the process, Maryland's elected officials persuaded Virginia to make the switch. Barbara Mikulski, Ben Cardin, and were involved, but my sources say the primary pressure came from Congressman Steny Hoyer, House Majority Leader and representative of College Park, Bowie and Southern Maryland.
Those pushing for a "clean" bill argue, my sources say, that Congress might not follow through if the bill includes any conditions on the federal representation. It turns out that the concept of a deal, where both parties have to follow through or the deal is off, isn't the typical way the House and Senate Appropriations Committees operate. Local leaders have been working for years to build support for this deal, they say; let's not do anything to screw it up. However, if something else screws it up anyway, we've just given up some local autonomy for nothing.
The no-strings substitute bill has passed Virginia's House. Update: and now, the Virginia legislature just substituted back the DC version again. If
something does pass at this point, most likely it will add federal representatives unconditionally. the no-strings version passes, we'll have to hold local officials' feet to the fire. If Hoyer, Mikulski, Cardin, Warner, Webb and the rest get the bill they want, they'd better push hard, and fast, to get the full $150 million appropriation for Metro this year, and keep it coming each year for the full ten.
Last year, Councilmember Jack Evans introduced a bill to exempt recently-designed churches from historic preservation. I and others argued that it could exempt other properties that might be, at the very least, less controversial. Evans withdrew the legislation amid criticism and the primary election; Marion Barry later reintroduced it, but it didn't come to a vote.
Now, as promised, Evans has introduced new legislation (PDF). This time, it specifically only exempts this one property from the historic preservation law. I'd suggest that the bill specifically clarify that if the church ceases to own the property, the exemption would end. Barry also reintroduced the broader bill once again.
Jim Graham introduced a bill to amend the WMATA Compact under the terms of the deal worked out between the federal government and DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Each jurisdiction must contribute $50 million per year to WMATA, and the feds will match the $150 million total. Under the bill, as promised in the deal, they also get two board seats, appointed by the General Services Administration, as long as they're holding up their end of the bargain and contributing their share.
In addition, the bill requires one of the federal representatives to be a regular rider of Metro services. Good idea; how about demanding that of all board members? It also adds a position of inspector general.
Other measures introduced recently include a resolution to confirm Gabe Klein, and this bill by Barry and Harry Thomas, Jr. that seems to seek to reestablish a Museum of the City of Washington, DC at the Carnegie Library building in Mount Vernon Square. The museum closed in 2004 from low attendance, and now the Historical Society occupies the building including some public exhibits.
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