Spring is here, romance is in the air, and it would be such a wonderful time to announce that the arranged marriage between Loudoun County and DC Metro will finally happen, and it probably will happen if Loudoun decision makers don’t peek behind the veil before saying, “Yes, I will.” Although the courtship has spanned decades, the moment draws near when Loudoun must choose whether to whisper that final word of acceptance, or denial.
Most people probably know at least a little about Metro, but do we know enough about this persistent suitor? On Wednesday of this week, Metro sat down in Loudoun’s living room to answer some hard questions. Metro ought to be a little uncomfortable because its name has been in the papers quite a bit lately for all the wrong reasons.
You see, Metro appears to have serious character and money problems. Since you, the people of Loudoun, could be part of this marriage, you deserve to know what is going on.
Around 2004, WMATA initiated what was essentially a fund-raising campaign to address an unfunded $1.5-billion, six-year capital program. According to the 2012 WMATA budget, the CNI (Capital Needs Inventory, which means stuff that needs to be replaced as it wears out, has soared to $13.3 billion projected through 2020. That is a rate of increase of $1.5 billion/yr, a total increase of $11.8 billion over 8 years. Where will these funds ultimately come from? Beyond 2020, where will the $1.5 billion per year come from to keep the 35-year-old, 106-mile Metro system in good repair? If there is a schedule or plan showing WMATA is taking into consideration the ongoing physical depreciation of equipment and facilities, it is nowhere to be found.
For all of its life, Metro has struggled with an extraordinary lack of dedicated funding sources, which has necessitated an over-reliance on annually appropriated support that makes the agency vulnerable to recurring financial crises. What if anything, is being done to change that? Again Metro offers Loudoun no cause for optimism.
Metro has been hounded for many years by a series of setbacks: lethal accidents, mechanical problems and breakdowns on buses and trains, overcrowding, communications troubles, and ongoing elevator and escalator hassles. Is there any evidence to support the idea that this is changing? Loudoun is listening. With much of the system reaching the end of its useful life, the rail operation in particular is showing its age as one of the oldest in the Country. Should Loudoun begin paying for decades of deferred maintenance and neglect, or for Metro’s unfunded obligations for health insurance and pensions that have been lavished on its union employees?
Money is not everything, is it? By the way, Fairfax just jumped into this Phase 2 Metro extension and they and Loudoun both have lots of money. Maybe this will be the turning point for Metro after 35 years of being a little short on cash.
Let’s put finances aside for a moment and look at Metro’s character to gauge what kind of treatment Loudoun could expect once the honeymoon is over.
A recent series of articles from the Washington Times shows a side of the Metro organization that is hard to believe exists in a civilized society. The March 26 headline, first in a 3-part series reads, Metro derailed by culture of complacence, incompetence, lack of diversity; Inept get promoted, capable get buried, the articles that follow cite examples of unimaginable practices, one after another, too many to mention.
In typical examples, a man who spent eight years in prison for dealing PCP was promoted to a high-level management position soon after his release. A senior supervisor, “Orlando Terrell King, was charged with reckless endangerment and fraudulently attempting to obtain a driver’s license, according to Maryland state records. Mr. King, who is paid $62,536, was promoted by Metro to oversee those who drive trains carrying thousands of passengers daily. Also rising rapidly to senior supervisor was Robbie O. McGee, who spent eight years in federal prison for felony distribution of PCP while on probation for another crime. He received five pay increases at Metro in two years,” according to the Times article.
People of Loudoun, do you know that just last Friday Loudoun County received a revised study that County Administrator, Tim Hemstreet, summarized to the supervisors. He said, quoting the study, “Nonetheless, RCLCO has not found any credible evidence to indicate that the extension of rail transit brings new development to an entire region.” This statement is counter to the claims that are being trumpeted to the public as part of the ongoing promotion of Metro to Loudoun.
Soon, Loudoun Supervisors will decide whether to bet the bank on Metro. Joining with Metro will mean inheriting Metro’s financial needs, which would in all likelihood trigger tax increases in Loudoun. Loudoun can opt in or out. [Editor’s note: Loudoun can only opt out. If the board were not to vote, the county would automatically become a partner in the project because of past actions.] Opting out would not prevent Metro from coming to the Dulles Airport. Opting out also would allow Loudoun to thoroughly analyze the proposal and renegotiate. The current proposal is full of TBD items that simply will not be answered without serious negotiations that could not possibly take place in the short time that remains under the current arrangement.
Metro, the would-be partner, has some serious explaining to do, and make no mistake, if our fair county blushes, says yes and joins into this arranged marriage ... divorce is not a legal option, it will last forever.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said this about the Dulles Rail project: "It is a real estate deal, not a transportation project." Are we listening to this warning?
Member of Loudoun Opt Out Group