Metro officials are drawing up a proposal to submit to D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) to take over management of the city's road-building program from the Department of Public Works, which is short of staff to handle the growing volume of street repairs.
The idea is opposed by Public Works Acting Director Art Lawson, who says that his department is capable of running the street construction program with limited help from consultants and that Metro lacks experience building roads.
The takeover proposal has injected tension into talks between Metro and Public Works over another idea that both agencies favor -- having the transit agency provide limited assistance to the city for one to three years.
Public Works and Metro officials plan to meet this week to go over the transit agency's proposal to provide 43 staff members to help with design and project management of major road- and bridge-building projects. That idea, Lawson said, would solve problems for both Metro and Public Works.
"Metro has some engineers and project folks who are running out of things to do because construction activities on the 103-mile [rail] system are coming to an end," Lawson said in a telephone interview. "We have some staff shortages, and we are basically negotiating with Metro on how we could utilize some of their staff expertise on road projects in the city."
After neglecting routine street repairs for years, the city began to spend millions of dollars more in the mid-1990s on its roads and plans more than 85 miles of work in the budget year that begins Oct. 1. The construction work is all contracted out, but the District did not have enough employees to supervise bids and monitor the projects.
Lawson said that those problems have been fixed and that his department would award more than $160 million in road work contracts by Sept. 30, when the current budget year ends. One sign of improvement, he said, is that the city now takes only 37 days to review bids before awarding contracts, compared with 180 days a few years ago.
"The program has come back," he said. "We don't need Metro to run our program. . . . Metro is a transit agency and not a road agency."
Tension over Metro's proposal to take over the road-building program, he said, has made negotiations "somewhat difficult" over the more limited proposal for help from Metro.
The Metro idea comes as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority moves away from extending its rail lines and focuses on maintaining its aging system. But several proposals have been made to extend Metro rails farther into the suburbs, which could put the agency in the rail-building business again in a few years.
Lawson said the concept of having Metro take over the road program was floated first by some members of the mayor's transition team. Peggy Armstrong, a spokeswoman for Williams, said any outside management of the road program is "just at the options and ideas stage at this point."
The District's interim deputy mayor for economic development, Douglas J. Patton, asked Metro to provide details of a takeover proposal, Armstrong said, but the idea has not been broached with the mayor yet.
Armstrong said that Patton "sees it as consistent with what the mayor has asked for, providing options where we can take advantage of partnerships and provide quality service at the best cost."
Williams has heavily promoted the idea of having city workers compete with outside firms to bid on performing municipal functions, a proposal opposed by many city workers. So far, the mayor has targeted repairing city vehicles, delivering internal mail and cleaning parks.
For their part, Metro officials say they are only responding to a request from city officials.
"They asked us to look at ways we might be able to help out. . . . It is a request from them to us," spokeswoman Cheryl Johnson said. "Metro likes to help out when we can."
In a May 21 letter to Patton obtained by The Washington Post, Metro general manager Richard A. White said if the transit agency took over the road program, it would be for four to six years, using 60 full-time staff members and 20 full-time consultants. Contracts would be awarded by the Metro board, but engineering would be based on city design standards.
White's letter said the idea raises legal, budget and funding issues, and that it would take Metro at least two months to develop a detailed proposal. One alternative to a full takeover, he said, would be for Metro to take over management of "several time-sensitive high-priority projects."