The Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) today approved creation of a panel of experts to recommend alternative sources of funding to help meet a looming shortfall faced by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority(WMATA).
Among the nation’s transit systems, WMATA is the largest one without a dedicated source of revenue. Officials expect a $40 million shortfall in next year’s budget, and the system faces a critical shortfall of $1.5 billion over the next six years for basic system improvements to the 30-year-old system.
Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and a member of the COG Board, proposed establishing the panel. "I have been a strong supporter of creating an independent body to examine dedicated funding for Metro because the system is such an asset to the national capital region, but it needs a stable financial base. I expect the panel to recommend a number of alternatives for meeting WMATA's long-term financial needs," Connolly said.
COG Board Chair Phil Mendelson, who also serves as vice chair of the Transportation Planning Board (TPB), said he expects the independent panel to recommend stable, dedicated funding sources for Metro. “I think this a great opportunity for us as a regional body to take a step forward in the right direction.”
The panel is scheduled to issue a report in mid-December recommending alternative sources of revenue for WMATA, including possible contributions from the region’s jurisdictions. Metro officials say failure to come up with new funding solutions will result in a significant deterioration of the region’s train and bus services.
The panel will consist of experts on economics, political science, public finance and regional transit capable of researching WMATA’s current and future financial needs as well as revenue sources used by transit systems in other parts of the country.
Metro’s funding needs are outlined in the Time to Act brochure released by the TPB in February. A separate report issued by the Brookings Institution in June titled “Washington Metro: Deficits by Design” found that the system’s unprecedented lack of dedicated funding sources necessitates an over-reliance on funding from state and local governments.
The funds are needed to repair, maintain and replace aging equipment of the world-class transit system created through a unique federal, state and local partnership nearly 50 years ago. Resources are also needed for new railcars and buses to eliminate overcrowding triggered by a growing population, as well as homeland security projects such as a back-up Operations Control Center.
The 13-member Panel on Analysis of and Potential for Alternate Dedicated Revenue Sources for WMATA will be jointly sponsored by the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Federal City Council, as well as COG. Meetings will be held at COG beginning in late September. Members are expected to be appointed next week.