Transit authority should should accept new blueprint for regional cooperation

By Bob Buchanan and Jacques S. Gansler
Monday, January 24, 2011

On Thursday, Jan. 27, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority will chart a path that will impact the quality of economic development the region experiences for decades to come.

Earlier this month, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), as well as D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), together endorsed recommendations on how to make the region's Metro system a more safe and efficient resource for the hundreds of thousands of residents who use it annually. Their recommendations and the report issued by a WMATA task force chart a promising path forward to address Metro's well-publicized challenges.

The board will vote on whether to accept the task force's report, which concludes that the WMATA governance structure is based upon an outdated model, plagued by undefined responsibilities and lacks authority and flexibility in its administration.

The troubled governance structure that has beset WMATA is, sadly, a reflection of the region's obstacles to accomplishing shared responsibilities throughout the greater Washington area. Whether the issue is overused roads, limited affordable housing or a sickened Chesapeake Bay, our leaders must develop a clear map for how this region will sustain growth while addressing the challenges and opportunities that accompany it. Using WMATA's newly proposed model, cooperative regional strategies are a smart and strategic investment in growing and sustaining our local economy that benefits all our residents.

The original WMATA Compact signed in 1967 was cited as "a visionary example of regional leadership." But more than four decades later, we need to update and modernize that vision. With the bulk of the region's employment spread across many jurisdictions and industries, the area is no longer government workforce-centric. Today, the metropolitan region has a population of more than 5.5 million with 2.95 million workers in an economy fueled by high-technology innovation in the Dulles corridor, biotechnology in the 270 corridor, defense-related industries, world-class education centers and many other suburban employment hubs that were undeveloped even a decade ago.

According to a recent study by Stephen S. Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, in 20 years our region is poised to grow by 94 percent; generate 1.6 million new jobs; and increase in population by 1.67 million, creating nearly 700,000 new households by the year 2030. Metro will have a million riders a day by then. Working together on issues such as transportation, education, housing, workforce and the environment requires cooperative thinking and decision-making that span beyond jurisdictional bounds.

Currently, each jurisdiction bases decisions on its own self-interest. This operational stalemate ensures inequity and, regrettably, a growing gulf between the haves and the have-nots throughout our communities. An imbalance of economic prosperity does not allow us to sustain a high quality of life for all who live here. As we begin a new decade, the WMATA report should be a catalyst for recognizing additional opportunities for regional cooperation and making the necessary timely decisions that can positively affect the lives of our area's citizens for generations to come.

We strongly urge the WMATA board to move deliberately and swiftly to enact the recommendations of the task force at its upcoming meeting. It is a unique opportunity to put regional governance -- with input and guidance from stakeholders throughout the area -- into action.

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