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Accountability and the Metro Board

On Tuesday, June 22, the Washington Post’s Metro section featured a story headlined, “Few gains in safety since Metro crash.” The reporter, Ann Tyson, wrote the following lede paragraph:

“A year after the deadliest accident in Metro’s history, the transit authority's safety record has worsened, and officials acknowledge that there has been too little progress.”

That followed a story on June 17 in which two Post reporters wrote:

“Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's administration threatened Wednesday to unravel a $1.5 billion federal funding plan for Metro unless the state gets two members on the agency's board of directors.

“The governor's transportation chief said McDonnell (R) wants more accountability for an investment that would cover more than half of Virginia's contribution to Metro. The state and local jurisdictions both provide funding.”

That and another story the following day elicited a letter to the editor in the June 24 Washington Post by two Virginia members of the WMATA board of directors, including Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman. In the opinion piece, Zimmerman and Catherine Hudgins claimed, “The state should not break the promise (to provide $50 million annually to WMATA) made to its residents and regional partners.” All of this came after two federal representatives were named to the WMATA board in January “in an urgent bid to strengthen oversight of the troubled transit agency.”

Post reporter Anita Kumar has been kept busy with the back and forth at her Virginia Politics blog, first noting that the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance was supporting Gov. McDonnell in his effort to add statewide appointees to the Metro board. Later she reported that Virginia had committed money to Metro. Finally, today, she reports that Metro acknowledges the committed funds, but the timing is uncertain.

Why am I writing all this? Because through County Board member Chris Zimmerman, Arlington taxpayers are  supposedly represented on the Metro board. However, as the Post reported on Tuesday, Metro’s safety record “has worsened” since the Red Line crash, which killed nine people, one year ago this week.

Let me also add that "net tax support" for Metro has increased 162% since 2000, according to the county’s FY 2009 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), available at the Department of Management and Finance’s webpage. That is significant because overall county spending over the same period has only increased 76.5%. In addition, the County Manager’s proposed FY 2011 budget would increase net tax support to 22.0 million, an increase of 7% from FY 2010. In FY 2009, net tax support was $18.4 million. Finally, on June 15, “The Arlington County Board committed to funding $121.6 million of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s six-year Capital Improvement Plan,” according to a county press release.

So what exactly are county taxpayers getting for all the millions of dollars dumped into the Metro system? If safety is not “priority 1,” what is? If safety has only gotten worse since the worst accident, as the Post reports, what has Arlington's Metro board member done to improve safety? Seems Virginia’s Gov. Bob McDonnell is spot on in wanting more accountability.

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