The federal funding is at the center of the $5 billion, six-year capital plan that the WMATA board is expected to approve next week. The $1.5 billion will be delivered over a decade, with authorization required each year. The first $150 million was in President Barack Obama’s budget this year.
But as the Washington Post reports this morning, the whole thing hangs on D.C., Maryland, and Virginia meeting their share with matching funds. The first $12.5 million from Virginia is due two weeks from today, and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s financial chief says he will withhold payment.
The McDonnell Administration wants two of Virginia’s four WMATA board members to be picked by the state. Right now, all four are selected by Northern Virginia jurisdictions.
Is McDonnell just looking out for all those poor, neglected Metro riders in Roanoke and Newport News? Does he want a Blue Line extension down to Richmond?
State Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton reasonably points out that Virginia taxpayers get to pay the bill, so accountability is a statewide issue.
“'We are now the largest contributor from this side of the Potomac, and we don't have a seat at the table,” he tells the Post.
But McDonnell has been governor for five months, and waiting until this close to the deadline is the move of a bully. While Connaughton cites safety as one of the McDonnell Administration’s concerns, the first round of federal dollars will include safety upgrades, including an $886 million contract for 428 rail cars to replace some of the decades-old ones still on the tracks. If Virginia skips out on the bill, that contract could collapse.
McDonnell is playing politics with Metro safety. The downstate Republican made a successful pitch to Fairfax County voters last year by promising to improve the mangle mess of transit in Northern Virginia. But now, he has Virginia’s WMATA board members -- all Democrats -- in his sights.
As the state’s first GOP governor in eight years, he is looking for a way to get his allies into powerful positions. So, in a strange move for a conservative, he wants to centralize things -- take the power to appoint those board members away from the locals and shift it to Richmond.
Those outside NoVa who help pay for Metro do deserve a voice. But threatening to tear down the whole Metro funding deal at the last minute isn't exactly a voice of reason.