The Metro system, now in operation for nearly 30 years, is a fundamental component of our region's heavily used transportation infrastructure. My colleagues -- D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson -- agree that we cannot take Metro for granted. The system needs new and stabilized funding for rehabilitation, maintenance and expansion if it is to remain a reliable conveyance for so many of our region's citizens.

Every day more than 1.2 million passengers use Metrorail, Metro buses and MetroAccess; 40 percent of people who travel to the urban core during a typical rush hour do so by mass transit -- the second-highest level in the nation, behind only New York City.

This region ranks third nationally in roadway congestion, and without Metro we would have to build 1,400 more lane-miles to accommodate the transit users who otherwise would have to drive. Use of Metro (bus and rail combined) removes 350,000 vehicles from our roads every day, saving 80 million gallons of gasoline annually, and it avoids the annual emission of more than 100 tons of air pollutants. In addition, Metro is the backbone for transit-oriented development.

The federal government receives substantial benefit from Metro; 47 percent of peak-hour riders are federal employees, and about 150,000 participate in the Metrochek transit-benefit program. Metro stations next to or near federal buildings serve more than 300 federal facilities. Finally, Metro plays a key role in homeland security by providing capacity and reliability in emergencies. Yet Metro is the only major transit system in the United States without a dedicated source of funding.

The Metro funding panel report of January documented a need for $2.4 billion to pay for critical capital projects from 2006 to 2015. The report concluded:

"Present operating and capital arrangements have created a short period of stability, but more permanent arrangements should be put in place soon if Metro is to avoid a downward spiral in its condition and performance . . . The failure to act promptly would have severe consequences on the region's economy and security."

The $2.4 billion would address shortfalls that were not funded in the recent Metro Matters agreement, which was a short-term funding fix to deal with urgent capital needs. The $2.4 billion also would extend beyond the six-year scope of the Metro Matters program. The $2.4 billion would not include proposed rail expansions that are funded by the sponsoring jurisdictions.

Many of us remember what happened to the New York transit system in the 1970s, when capital spending for system infrastructure was insufficient. Service deteriorated, the system came to be viewed as unsafe and ridership dropped, putting additional pressure on the roadways. We must not allow this to happen to Metro.

We are grateful for the leadership of Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) in introducing H.R. 3496. This bill would secure $1.5 billion in federal funds to address Metro's needs. Requiring that these funds be matched by a similar amount from state or local resources will give our localities an incentive to secure dedicated funding.

While we have no doubts that local jurisdictions will commit to dedicated funding, it is too early to determine whether the source will be a redirection of existing funds or an enhanced source of existing revenue. As the specifics of this issue and other components of the bill are studied, however, elected officials in this region must move forward on amending the Metro compact in anticipation of the passage of H.R. 3496.

-- Gerald Connolly

a Democrat, chairs

the Fairfax County

Board of Supervisors.

chairman@fairfaxcounty.gov