AFTER DETROIT failed to make the cut last month in Amazon’s second-headquarters sweepstakes, a handful of local leaders had a postmortem phone call to ask the online behemoth what went wrong. Among the company’s main concerns: Detroit’s mass transit system was not up to snuff.
That should be a wake-up call for state lawmakers in Virginia and Maryland, both of which have localities that are among Amazon’s 20 HQ2 finalists. (Disclosure: Amazon founder and CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Post.) In both Richmond and Annapolis, legislation has been introduced to extend a critically needed long-term financial lifeline to Metro, which serves both jurisdictions as well as the District, which also made the Amazon shortlist. If that legislation is enacted, it will boost business confidence and the region’s odds in the Amazon competition. If it fails, that message undoubtedly will also be heard loud and clear.
Make no mistake: Amazon or no Amazon, the national capital region desperately needs a long-term funding strategy for Metro, the nation’s only major transit system that lacks a reliable, earmarked source of local and state dollars. The system has been underfunded for decades and faces a dire future of further safety mishaps, service cuts and fare hikes unless it gets the $500 million in new annual funding that officials say is a bare minimum to revive and restore Metro. That should be reason enough for lawmakers to do the right thing for Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, the Amazon finalists that are oversized drivers of their respective states’ economies.
Although Amazon undeniably raises the stakes, major hurdles remain for the states to provide what Metro needs. In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan (R), once a transit skeptic, has shown admirable flexibility in edging toward a funding deal that would furnish Metro with a chunk of the $500 million in new annual funding that the system needs. He may need to move even further by rethinking his initial insistence that any new contribution from the state be matched by higher federal funding; like it or not, Metro isn’t as important to the feds as it is to the region.
In Virginia, Northern Virginia lawmakers may have to reconcile themselves to the fact that their downstate counterparts, most of them Republicans, may never agree to share the burden for Metro funding; the region, rather than the state, will have to open its own wallet to ensure the transit network’s future. Yet even that is in doubt because some key Republicans, notably Del. Timothy D. Hugo, a Fairfax County Republican who chairs the GOP caucus in the House of Delegates, have opposed even letting Northern Virginia tax itself to generate new Metro funding.
Mr. Hugo answers every plea for more Metro funding with demands for reforms, oblivious to the impressive strides made by the system’s general manager, Paul J. Wiedefeld, who has overhauled tracks and other infrastructure, tightened safety procedures and slashed hundreds of workers from Metro’s payroll.
A day of reckoning for Metro has been postponed for too long, imperiling the region’s future. If any regional leaders doubt it, they may want to chat with Detroit.
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