And yet, Trump will be working alongside a Congress controlled by Republicans who are vehemently opposed to tax increases and who have vowed to defund mass transit, “an inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population.”
“I think it makes everything much more arduous,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) about the potential for increased federal investment in Metro.
“Republicans typically hate infrastructure bills – they don’t like to spend money that way,” said Metro board member Carol Carmody, who represents the federal government. “Unless we have awfully different Republicans running things, I don’t see it.”
“Our fight will be more difficult,” said Jackie Jeter, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689. “Local 689 will not sit back under this new administration and watch our system be privatized … Assuring dedicated funding is the only way to make sure Metro is protected.”
But Metro board Chairman Jack Evans had a characteristically optimistic take: Trump’s move to the White House could mean good things for Metro, he said Wednesday.
“The first thing he mentioned last night was infrastructure, and that’s exactly where we’re at here in D.C.,” said Evans, who also is a D.C. Council member. “I hope that continues, along the lines of getting the federal government more actively involved in the infrastructure of Metro.”
Specifically, Evans wants more money. He’s argued for months that the federal government should help fund the transit agency’s annual operating costs because so many of the system’s riders are federal workers commuting to their jobs.
“I don’t know what his thoughts are on Metro, but I do know he’s from New York, and they’ve gone through that we’re going through now,” Evans said, referring to the crumbling infrastructure and unsafe conditions in New York’s subway in the 1970s and 1980s. “He would have a familiarity with public transit, and its importance to New York and the people who live there.”
If local leaders approach Trump the right way, Evans added, “maybe we’ll be able to make some progress that we weren’t in the past.”
But, Robert Puentes of the Eno Center for Transportation pointed out that Metro’s complex financial situation also puts the transit agency at risk. Though local leaders are seeking additional funding to help pay for operating costs, they’re also at risk of losing their existing funding — $150 million per year for capital costs.
“This region probably has a double challenge in that they’re not only looking to maintain federal support, but they’re looking for extra federal support,” Puentes said.
Of course, the region’s struggling transit system is hardly likely to become a top priority for an incoming president. But President Obama was known to occasionally comment on the state of Metro, and the Federal Transit Administration’s beefed-up role in safety oversight will mean that Trump’s administration likely will be engaged in Metro’s ongoing challenges.
One bright spot, according to Metro’s local advocates: Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), perhaps Metro’s fiercest critic in Congress, was ousted from office Tuesday night.
Another bright spot, according to Matthew F. Letourneau, vice chair of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments: Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) held onto her seat.
“The simple fact that we will have a seat at the table with the majority in Congress — if we had lost that, that would have been a huge blow,” Letourneau said. “She has influence. We’ll really need to look to her to help with all these issues.”
As for Metro’s future relationship with Trump, Letourneau said he was cautiously optimistic – as long as the region’s leaders play their cards right.
“Obviously, we have infrastructure needs in the Washington region. It’s incumbent on us to make sure those needs are understood, and make sure the new administration is open to us,” Letourneau said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us to make the case that we need the investment here.”
And, he added, there’s certainly room for improvement when it comes to the federal government’s stewardship of the region’s transit system.
“It’s not like things flourished under the Obama administration,” Letourneau said. “It’s not necessarily going to be worse.”