Robert J. Smith’s Dec. 29 Local Opinions column, “Metro planners’ distracting pipe dream,” contained assumptions that beg updating. Much has changed since Mr. Smith served as chairman of the Metro board a decade ago.
The board adopted a policy that reflects the reality that the Metrorail system serves the entire region, not just a station location. New capacity is a regional need and has to be funded with regional resources. Since the earliest days of Metrorail, the board has understood that the system was the region’s collective future and that parochial interests could destroy it. That spirit binds this board in its pursuit of the mobility and economic power this region needs in the decades to come.
The assumption that investment by Maryland in new D.C. stations would merely help its residents “spend entertainment dollars in the District” misses the point that the Metro system is about more than clubbing. Expanded capacity would allow more Maryland residents to ride the train to work in the District and Virginia, as well as more D.C. and Virginia residents to commute to jobs in Maryland.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments estimates that, at current growth rates, our region will add 1.5 million residents in the next 20 years — the equivalent of adding Philadelphia. While the region is planning new road capacity, the majority of the investment to meet that growth has to be in mass transit, and we have to start planning for that investment now.
This is a stark contrast to the past, when too much priority was placed on local issues and on reducing investments in the Metro system, which led to the abandonment of a full maintenance program and to serious safety issues. The board recognizes that it has to rebuild the system and is doing so with a multiyear capital program that invests $5 billion to move Metro forward. And the board adopted a strategic plan, “Momentum,” to move to all eight-car trains to maximize existing assets while planning for future growth.
The Metro board is fixing the system so that it is safe and reliable, advocating for an intermediate-term capacity expansion of the rail fleet and looking at long-term challenges. That interim plan buys time — maybe a decade — but then the board has to have practical alternatives to expand the system. It is what the riders, businesses and elected officials of this region expect and what this board can do for the next generation of riders.
Tom Downs, Washington
The writer is chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board.