The statement was obvious and unsurprising, but the fact that it had to be uttered was evidence of the scale of the challenge facing Loudoun government leaders when it comes to paying bills that follow the Silver Line.
Yes, it is too late for the county to pull out of the Metrorail extension.
It has been for many years. The previous Board of Supervisors committed to helping the region pay the operational and capital costs associated with running one of the nation’s busiest transit systems.
Key to making that decision was the concept that those living closest to the rail line would be paying those costs through special tax districts. It was a doubling down on the bet that the Silver Line would fuel a long-term economic boon. The primary goal of the comprehensive planning work now underway in the corridor is to lay a fertile ground for that private investment while also promoting development that will offer new residents and workers a high quality of life.
That’s something supervisors have little control over. The deep fiscal hole of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority is a different matter.
The system has been ravaged by decades of leadership mismanagement and myopia. In part, those failures are rooted in the structure of the regional compact. It most often is described as a three-jurisdiction enterprise. Hardly. Virginia, Maryland, DC and the federal government appoint the board’s members. That’s four parties of interest. But it’s even more complex because operational costs are divided among DC, two Maryland counties, two (soon to be three) Virginia counties, and three Virginia cities. Each has a say in the operations but none has responsibility for them. The governance structure is set up to promote useless finger-pointing instead of demanding accountability.
Combined with the lack of a dedicated funding source, that structural dysfunction will continue to hamper efforts to right the ship. As local rail critics have long pointed out, Loudoun can’t afford to wallow in that quagmire.
With energetic new leadership at the helm and taking a more realistic view of the challenges facing the system now is to look beyond the short-term. It is not just more money and rail car upgrades that were needed. Now is time for regional and state leaders to restructure the whole operation.
There is a reason WMATA’s 11-government compact is unique in the nation: it isn’t likely to work well.
It hasn’t for quite some time.