Money for Metro
METRO RIDERS don't need to be told that the Washington area's mass transit system is in need of a cash infusion. Every time commuters squeeze into crowded subway cars or scramble up immobilized escalators, they're reminded of Metro's eroding facilities. That soon may change, thanks to the resolve of Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and the bipartisan cooperation of regional leaders. On Wednesday the Senate approved a proposal to provide $1.5 billion in federal funding over 10 years to help maintain Metro if local jurisdictions come up with matching funds. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) helped guide the bill through the House; Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) provided crucial support in the Senate. But the legislation wouldn't have passed without the determination of Mr. Davis, who has pursued Metro funding for years. Mr. Davis will retire in January after 14 years in Congress. Washingtonians couldn't ask for a better parting gift.
Metro is the only major transit system without dedicated funding. As a result, it has to plead with localities for money and never seems to get enough. High gas prices have spurred record-high ridership. This is a boon for the environment but a burden for Metro's balance sheet. Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said last week that Metro needs more than $11 billion over 10 years -- about double the rate of capital investment spending each year since 2002 -- to maintain and improve its services. The bill won't solve all of Metro's problems or provide the full amount Mr. Catoe requested. But $300 million a year in dedicated funding is a good start.
Now it's up to Maryland, Virginia and the District to come up with $50 million a year, each. All three have pledged to do so. Maryland's share is already included in the state's capital transportation budget, and the District is setting aside part of its sales tax revenue. Virginia's plans are less firm. Since the commonwealth failed to come up with a plan to fund transportation, it hasn't yet set aside the $50 million. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) has promised that he will deliver the funds, even if it means shifting money from other projects. There could be few higher priorities.