McDonnell's bid for seats on Metro board appears headed for defeat

Metro's budget and workforce for maintaining escalators and elevators have dropped relative to the growing number of machines, leading to numerous breakdowns and headaches.
By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 5, 2010; 9:46 PM

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's attempt to gain two state seats on Metro's board of directors appears headed for defeat Thursday, when Northern Virginia political leaders are scheduled to vote on a plan that would keep the state's control of Metro among local officials.

Several members of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, including McDonnell's representative to the panel, said they expect the group to pass a resolution stating that all four of Northern Virginia's Metro board seats should remain under local control.

The commission, made up of 19 locally and state-elected officials plus the state's public transportation director, appoints Northern Virginia's Metro directors. The Metro board's 14 members include two representatives from Fairfax County, one from Arlington County and the Alexandria mayor.

The question over how much say the state should have in Metro's affairs surfaced this summer, when McDonnell (R) threatened to withhold Virginia's contribution to a $3 billion federal funding plan for Metro's capital needs unless the state received two of Northern Virginia's four seats on the agency's board.

The federal government agreed to give Metro $1.5 billion for capital needs over 10 years but required Virginia, Maryland and the District to match the money. The governor's transportation chief had said McDonnell wanted more accountability and oversight - after a fatal June 2009 Red Line crash and a string of safety lapses at the transit agency - before committing to an annual contribution of $50 million.

"With that kind of investment, we want to be a partner in the governance as well," said Thelma Drake, McDonnell's director of rail and public transportation and a member of the Northern Virginia commission. "We'll continue to make that point."

Asked whether the governor would again link Metro board seats to future state Metro contributions, Drake said, "I can't answer that." She said McDonnell ultimately agreed to Virginia's share of the federal match in July because it allowed Metro to sign an $886 million contract to buy needed new rail cars.

The resolution expected to pass Thursday says that the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission will work to build "an enhanced and supportive relationship" with the state to discuss a "broader focus" beyond Metro board seats, namely the agency's need for more money in the long term.

Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman, who serves on the Metro board and the transportation commission, said Northern Virginia leaders know more than state officials about Metro issues that affect their constituents every day.

Falls Church City Council member David F. Snyder, a transportation commission member, said he'd be reluctant to give Metro board seats to the state without it guaranteeing "significantly more" funding to make Metro safer and more reliable.

"I don't think board membership can be separated from funding," Snyder said.

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