Jeff McKay, a Democrat, is chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

By now many area residents have heard that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is facing a significant financial crisis. Because of low ridership in the coronavirus pandemic, its expected budget gap for fiscal 2021 is projected at more than $200 million. The situation is even more dire for fiscal 2022: The gap in funding could be as high as $716 million.

Metro won’t survive this shortfall without federal aid.

This isn’t just a WMATA problem, of course. I don’t have to point far to prove the far-reaching impacts of the pandemic. In just the past several weeks, the airline industry has started the process of furloughing tens of thousands of employees and is looking to Congress for $25 billion in aid. And millions of Americans have filed for unemployment this year. Clearly, the coronavirus is touching every sector of our economy.

But we won’t be able to successfully reopen our economy without access to adequate public transit. Holding Metro back will only further delay reopening efforts in our region, as so many workers depend on transit to get to work.

But let’s look at a bigger picture — outside of WMATA’s impact on D.C., Congress would like to think WMATA is a “D.C.” program, but that is shortsighted.

More than half of Metrorail stations serve federal facilities, and almost a third of riders during peak Metrorail hours are federal employees. Those are our Homeland Security workers, public health officials and employees preserving our national parks — all nationwide interests.

As with any investments in infrastructure, the benefits don’t start and end in one place. WMATA procured its 7000-series rail cars, for example, from Kawasaki, a manufacturer based in Nebraska. Those 748 rail cars cost WMATA $2 million each and were key to supporting hundreds of jobs in Lincoln, Neb., of all places.

Finally, for those who believe climate change is an existential threat to this country, public transit continues to prove critical to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and reversing the damaging effects of climate change. Currently, transportation accounts for 28 percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions. On average, traveling by Metro results in 40 percent less greenhouse gas emissions per mile than driving by car. In 2019, Metro helped our region avoid emissions equaling 300,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

We all know about the criticisms WMATA has received over the years. And I’m not afraid to say that I often agree. But this isn’t a problem of labor disputes and emergency management. The coronavirus pandemic has upended all of our lives and our industries.

However, it is also important to point out that Metro has made great strides in rebuilding its infrastructure. We have all invested significantly, and this isn’t the time to leave Metro high and dry. Metro is a necessity for the region and a necessity for the federal government, and it’s time for the federal government to invest in the transit agency that keeps its employees and our nation running.

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