D.C. Threats Are 'Virginia- Bashing,' Officials Say
Wednesday, September 24, 2008; Page B02
Northern Virginia leaders said yesterday that threats by D.C. officials to block the expansion of Metrorail to Dulles International Airport hurt regional cooperation, and Fairfax County's top executive likened it to "using the nuclear option" against the region's largest jurisdiction.
"That kind of Virginia-bashing is unproductive," said Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. "It has a chilling message to it, that they would be so narrow and parochial to destroy regional comity and invite retaliation."
The bickering started at a D.C. Council hearing Monday on a bill to set aside $50 million a year in dedicated funding for Metro. Council members criticized Virginia for not doing more to support the agency. Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) suggested that the District's representatives on the Metro board use their veto power to derail the Dulles rail project unless Virginia members support the District's proposal to move Metro's headquarters from downtown Washington to Anacostia.
Evans backed down yesterday after being told that an independent consultant found that such a move would be too costly. But council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who is on the Metro board, said that the District might still use that leverage on something else because the Metro decisions on the Dulles rail project were made years ago. (At this stage, only the Federal Transit Administration could kill Dulles -- by not providing funds.) Graham said there were ways to make the relocation "cost-neutral" to Metro and beneficial for the District.
"Why wouldn't [Metro] give us the opportunity for this benefit?" Graham said.
The squabbling highlights the tendency of the key regional body to get bogged down in turf battles, officials said. Metro's board has six voting and six alternate members. Maryland, the District and Virginia each appoint two voting members and two alternates, so members often have parochial interests instead of regional interests "closest to their heart," said D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At Large), a former Metro board member.
Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), whose Metro funding bill is pending in Congress, said yesterday that his bill adds federal representatives to the Metro board "because you need a grown-up on there to arbitrate these regional disputes."
The focus of the latest sparring is the eight-story headquarters building at 600 Fifth St., two blocks from the Verizon Center. City officials and Metro's District members have been lobbying Virginia and Maryland board members to sell the building, thereby freeing up valuable land for redevelopment, and move headquarters to Anacostia to spur revitalization, a priority of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D).
Metro staff have been researching the possibility of relocating the building to a Metro station property for the past five years. An independent consultant told the board in June that relocation would cost Metro as much as $70 million.
Maryland board member Peter Benjamin said the state supports a move as long as there are no costs to Metro or Maryland. Virginia board member Jeff McKay said he opposes the move because of its cost and because the relocation "has no positive material impact on passengers whatsoever."
McKay said that it makes no sense for the cash-strapped agency to spend money on relocating instead of improving basic train and bus service.
Metro operating costs are paid with fares and contributions from the District (38 percent), Maryland (38 percent) and the Northern Virginia jurisdictions served by Metro (24 percent). About the same breakdowns apply for what the jurisdictions pay for Metro's capital costs. There are 40 Metro stations in the District, 26 in Maryland and 20 in Virginia.
The pending federal legislation would provide Metro with $1.5 billion over 10 years, provided the District, Maryland and Virginia pledge matching funds.
The District and Maryland have committed, but legislators in Virginia have not come up with a funding plan for transportation improvements, including Metro's.