Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) called for more federal transportation spending Wednesday—and said a change in House of Representatives leadership might be necessary to make it happen.
“There is no way that we can meet the infrastructure needs of our nation without increasing federal spending, and we cannot do that without net new federal money,” Warner said at a meeting of the Committee for Dulles in Sterling.
In particular, he said the federal government should contribute more to Metrorail. Although much of the federal workforce in DC rides Metro—and constitutes a major share of Metro’s ridership—Congress pays only a share of operating costs for Metro, and does not contribute to capital costs.
“Kudos to Virginia for upping their contribution to Metro, as well as the District [of Columbia] and Maryland,” Warner said “And it’s a fair request to make to those of us at the federal level—if the local partners are upping their contribution for what is basically the federal government’s way for its workforce to get to work every day—then we ought to up ours.”
But Warner also said leadership in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives “has not been as supportive as it should be” of Metrorail.
“If there were some changes in the House, in terms of the leadership of the House, it becomes an easier item to make sure that the federal government at least maintains its current share, if not an increase,” Warner said.
He also proposed a national infrastructure plan for the U.S.—“the only industrial nation in the world that does not have a national infrastructure plan”—to allow for long-term financing and collecting the expertise to make sure private sector businesses don’t “take advantage” of taxpayers.
“Too often it has been the deal structure that has not given the taxpayers a fair value, and having that expertise in one location at the federal level is very valuable,” Warner said.
He also said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the next Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization will pass with no new perimeter rule exemptions. The perimeter rule limits the distance of flights from Reagan National Airport, and is meant to keep the two airports under the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority from competing with each other for long-haul flights. Since 2000 Congress has passed 32 exemptions to that rule, contributing to slower passenger growth at Dulles Airport.
But he said Dulles has turned a corner with rising passenger counts, and said the capital infusion from selling hundreds of acres of airport land will only help. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority on Tuesday approved the sale of 424 acres surplus land to a data center developer for $236.5 million.
“There are types of business that, proximate to the airport, make a lot of sense,” Warner said. “… And we’re trying to see, are there other federal clients that might make sense close to the airport?”