Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s general manager came to Loudoun to field questions from county supervisors, but the local leaders directed their hardest questions Tuesday night toward Congress.
Although more than half of federal employees in Washington, DC, commute on Metro, the federal government contributes only to Metro’s capital budget—nothing to operating expenses. Every other jurisdiction served by Metro, soon to include Loudoun, contributes both operating and capital funding.
Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) asked WMATA’s Paul J. Wiedefeld if he’d seen any movement toward federal funding.
“I think it’s something we should pursue,” he said. “The federal government used to provide operating dollars to transit agencies around the country. That was stopped several years ago, so obviously it’s a heavy lift, but any option we can get, we should push.”
Board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) agreed.
“It benefits the federal government very directly,” Buona said.
Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) and Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) asked Wiedefeld for more clarity on funding the system. Letourneau said he would guess the system will face an operational shortfall of upwards of $100 million next year. But Wiedefeld said he doesn’t know exactly what that need will be, and WMATA, which is still getting its house in order and locked in negotiations with labor unions, hasn’t done that calculation yet.
“I’m a little confused about that,” Randall said. “If you have not yet done your needs assessment, then how can you know what to ask for?”
“Do you feel like your operations are stabilized to even be able to identify what the dollar value need is at this juncture?” Letourneau followed.
Wiedefeld said that’s a decision for the WMATA board.
“It’s a larger policy decision that has been talked about for years, but I have to focus on the day to day operations,” Wiedefeld said.
Supervisors Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian) and Ron A. Meyer (R-Broad Run) asked about the choke point at the Rosslyn tunnel. Meyer said disruptions in the system have caused him to stop using Metro on his DC commute.
“We’re adding six stops and all the passengers that come with that, and yet we’re sending them through the same tunnel,” Meyer said. “How is that sustainable?”
Wiedefeld responded that the problem was identified early and is in Metro’s capital needs assessment.
Buona complemented Wiedefeld’s work so far.
“I think you’ve taken some bold steps,” Buona said, “and I think we’re beginning to see the very early signs of a turnaround.”