The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), along with the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Federal City Council, appointed 13 experts to serve on a panel established to research funding options for the region’s public transit system.
The COG Board of Directors in September approved creation of the panel to research alternative sources of funding for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) as it faces a looming budget shortfall. The private sector’s involvement, led by the Board of Trade and the Federal City Council, builds on the business community’s original support for the establishment of the region’s transit system and its long-standing involvement in transportation issues.
Rudolph G. Penner, Senior Fellow at the Urban Institute, will serve as chair for the Metro Funding Panel, known formally as the panel on Analysis of and Potential for Alternate Dedicated Revenue Sources for WMATA. “Keeping our regional transit system in good working order is vital for our communities, businesses and families,” Penner said. “This panel is a great opportunity for us to work together with the goal of ensuring metropolitan Washington’s rail and bus network remains among the world’s best.”
Panel members include: Gus Bauman, Of Counsel, Beveridge & Diamond; Thomas M. Downs, President and CEO, ENO Transportation Foundation; James W. Dyke, Jr., Partner, McGuire Woods, LLP; Nuria I. Fernandez, Senior Vice President, Global Transportation at Earth Tech, Inc.; J. Kenneth Klinge, Principal, JKK Associates; John E Petersen, Professor and Chair, School of Public Policy, George Mason University; Dale Susan Rosenthal, Senior Vice-President and CFO, Clark Construction Group, LLC.; Major F. Riddick, Jr., President and CEO, Strategic Solutions Center; Michael C. Rogers, Executive Vice President, Corporate Services, MedStar Health; Pauline A. Schneider, Partner, Hunton & Williams; Matthew S. Watson, Administrative Judge, D.C. Contract Appeals Board and former D.C. Auditor; James A. Wilding, Transportation Consultant and former President, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Mortimer L. Downey, President of PB Consult, Inc., will serve as staff director. Additional staff support will be provided by COG’s National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB), the Brookings Institution and WMATA itself.
Panelists were selected based on their experience and expertise in economics, political science, public finance and regional transit, and will be responsible for researching WMATA’s current and future financial needs as well as revenue sources used by transit systems in other parts of the country. Two additional federal representatives will be appointed to participate in an ex officio, non-voting basis.
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,” Connolly said. “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."
COG Board Chair Phil Mendelson, who also serves as vice chair of the TPB, welcomes the creation of the panel. "Every major transit system in the country has dedicated funding except us,” Mendelson said. “We will not grow if we don't solve the funding crisis. We need to revamp our system. Everybody needs to be at the table and we need to establish reliable and dedicated funding sources to meet Metro's needs."
“We expect this panel to follow in the footsteps of the historic Joint Committee on Mass Transportation established by the business community more than 40 years ago to ensure that Metro has the long-term funding it needs to operate effectively,” said Robert A. Peck, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.
The panel is scheduled to issue a report in mid-December recommending alternative sources of revenue. A series of five meetings will begin October 7.
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. Funds are needed to repair, maintain and replace aging equipment. New railcars and buses are also needed to eliminate overcrowding triggered by a growing population.
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. 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 Institute 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.