The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings budget legislation will change the budget process and the debate for at least the next five years. It will force local transit authorities across America to identify alternative ways of financing their systems.

It is unfortunate that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority does not have a source of working capital, which such places as Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, San Francisco and New York have. Such local revenues would permit WMATA to maintain its preferred construction schedule independent of the federal funding process.

The federal dollars granted for construction of the Metrorail system over the years have exceeded that for all other new rail systems combined. While future funding proposals are being debated in Congress, more than $440 million is available now to WMATA for construction from appropriations in fiscal years '85 and '86.

The full-funding contracts granted by the

Urban Mass Transportation Administration require that construction be initiated only on segments that can be brought into revenue service with available resources. If Congress appropriates additional funds for construction, the system would be able to expand in an orderly way consistent with all federal requirements.

An ongoing Federal City Council study, which is looking at financing and other long-term operation cost shortfalls of WMATA, should help the region address its funding problems.

The move to balance the federal budget will force this region to face these issues soon. Washington is one of the richest metropolitan areas in the country, and despite serving as the nation's capital, it will not be immune from budget cuts. The Washington area must begin working for a sound plan for urban mobility now. And that plan must be one both the local and the federal taxpayers can afford.