McDonnell wants statewide members on Metro board

By Lisa Rein and Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 17, 2010

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's administration threatened Wednesday to unravel a $1.5 billion federal funding plan for Metro unless the state gets two members on the agency's board of directors.

The governor's transportation chief said McDonnell (R) wants more accountability for an investment that would cover more than half of Virginia's contribution to Metro. The state and local jurisdictions both provide funding.

The federal government is providing the money for capital needs during the next 10 years but requires the District, Maryland and Virginia to match it.

"We are now the largest contributor from this side of the Potomac, and we don't have a seat at the table," said Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton, explaining his push to take two of the four Northern Virginia seats away from the jurisdictions that appoint them. The state is "extremely concerned about management, operation and safety" in the wake of last year's fatal Red Line crash.

If Virginia reneges on the pledge to match the $150 million from the federal government, the repercussions would be immediate, Metro officials said: An $886 million contract for 428 rail cars that the federal program will fund will be in jeopardy.

The first $12.5 million of Virginia's share is due July 1. "I personally don't plan [on paying it] until we have an agreement," said William Pittard, chief financial officer of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

The Metro board has 14 members, including two appointed by the Obama administration as a condition of the funding contribution. The federal government plans to name two more members. The four Northern Virginia members are the only ones from Virginia.

State appointees would have more expertise than the current board members from Northern Virginia, who as local elected officials can devote only a portion of their time to their Metro duties, Connaughton said.

"We have part-time local government officials showing up part time on the [Metro] board overseeing a multibillion-dollar transit system," he said. The state would choose one voting member and one alternate.

Connaughton said McDonnell would hire a transit expert to sit on the Metro board and to work on other transportation issues.

Metro board member Jim Graham, a D.C. Council member (D-Ward 1), said that if Virginia refuses to pay, the District and Maryland would be obligated to withhold their payments.

"This is very serious mischief," he said. "It's a serious breakdown of regional cooperation, which has been the essential element of Metro."

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