Cleatus E. Barnett, 83

Cleatus E. Barnett, one of Metro's founding fathers, dies at 83

By Timothy R. Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cleatus E. Barnett, 83, who as one of Metro's founding fathers helped expand the rapid transit system into Montgomery County and was implacable in his commitment to preserve the system's aesthetic integrity, died Aug. 11 at a hospice care center in Pensacola, Fla. He had Alzheimer's disease.

A Silver Spring Republican, Mr. Barnett represented Montgomery County for 32 years on the board of directors of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, including five terms as chairman. He resigned in 2003 at age 76 and moved to Pensacola.

He joined the transit authority in 1971, two years after construction had begun on the city's rapid transit system. In 1976, Metro opened with a section of track that stretched nearly five miles in the District from Rhode Island Avenue to Farragut North.

He was able to untangle Metro's complex financing and funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to Montgomery County. Money came from the counties, the federal government and interest from cash that WMATA had in the bank. WMATA is the only U.S. transit agency without dedicated funding.

When money for Metro construction ran out in 1974, his politicking and bargaining secured more funds. In the late 1970s, Mr. Barnett assisted Rep. Herbert Harris (D-Va.) in developing legislation to provide Metro with $1.7 billion in federal funds, which Harris confirmed briefly by telephone.

He helped other directors secure funding to build up transit in their jurisdictions, but his greatest impact was expanding the Red Line into Montgomery County in the early 1980s.

Through early planning with Montgomery officials, Mr. Barnett helped ensure the county received the first suburban routes when Metro expanded outside the District.

The Potomac ruled out Virginia, said Joseph Alexander, a former Fairfax County supervisor who served on the board of directors for 23 years.

"You had to cross the river to get into Virginia, which was an expensive, long process," Alexander said. "It was easier to go into Maryland."

Because much of Metro's funding was allotted years in advance, it took some prescience to secure money, said Zachary Schrag, a professor of history at George Mason University who wrote "The Great Society Subway," a 2006 history of Metro.

"By deciding early and deciding firmly, Montgomery County was able to get money before other jurisdictions," Schrag said.

Mr. Barnett was crucial in expanding Metro to Shady Grove when transit was initially slated to terminate at Rockville.

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