Waiting -- and Waiting -- for the Green Line

In 1984, in hearings before the House Appropriations transportation subcommittee, the administrator of the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, Ralph Stanley, stated that the Metro Green Line "was the most cost-effective, transit-dependent line in the whole system."

Nearly two years later, the Reagan administration is about to propose that Metro receive no federal construction funds in fiscal 1987. That proposal raises the possibility that the Green Line (running from Greenbelt through Northeast and Southeast Washington to Branch Avenue in southern Prince George's County) may never be completed. The same may prove true for portions of the Yellow and Red lines.

The reason? The Gramm-Rudman balanced-budget legislation adopted by Congress last month.

As a result of that legislation, with its stringent deficit-reduction requirements, the administration has apparently decided to suspend, if not end, its commitment to Metro. Not only will the president's budget for fiscal year 1987 include no new funds for Metro, but UMTA is now using the uncertainty created by the passage of Gramm-Rudman as an excuse to hold up funds appropriated for Metro in 1984. And, when the first round of the Gramm-Rudman automatic cuts goes into effect, Metro stands to lose funds appropriated just last month. This potentially chaotic situation threatens to unravel the delicate agreement among area jurisdictions regarding the timetable for construction of new subway stations.

There now exists the possibility that hundreds of thousands of citizens in the Washington area who have waited patiently for the subway to come to their neighborhoods, on whose behalf area governments have contributed 20 percent of construction funds, may be disappointed.

They will not benefit from easy access to the jobs created by the more than $3 billion in commercial nonresidential development that the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government estimates has taken place near Metro stations. COG has also found that there is a tremendous disparity in the metropolitan area regarding citizens' accessiblity to the work place. Only one-third of the residents in Northeast and Southeast Washington, for example, can get to work in 40 minutes or less, and only 55 percent of the residents of Anacostia can get to work in less than an hour. Is it fair to deny these people the easy access afforded by the subway?

Construction contributions by area governments have been based on the expectation that they would result, when added to the federal contribution, in a regional system of 101 miles (with two additional miles planned on the Green Line in southern Prince George's). Anything less than the full system would signify a failure to keep the commitment that the federal government made to create a model transit system in our area.

Although Congress must finally decide whether to provide construction funds for Metro, the next year will pose new challenges as transportation projects across the country compete for increasingly limited federal dollars. What Gramm-Rudman does to Metro is only the beginning.