During a roughly two-hour hearing this afternoon, congressional Republicans appeared tough on Metro—and in particular, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans—for deigning to ask for additional funding for the transit agency.
“This money game is mind-boggling,” Rep. John Mica said, following Evan’s testimony on Metro’s 35-percent share of federal employee riders and its $2.5 billion unfunded pension liability risk. “It’s not like they don’t have the money—it’s incompetence! … The arcing causes smoke and people die!”
When Evans admitted that the District has more than $2 billion in reserve funds, Mica erupted: “I am not going to bail you out! I am not going to bail out Washington, D.C.!” During a subsequent exchange, Evans pointed to Beijing, Shanghai, Moscow, Paris, and London as cities where the national governments invest majorly in their “world-class” subway systems. “These are all communist countries!” Government Operations Subcommittee Chair Mark Meadows retorted.
But Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly noted that the federal government is the only party in Metro’s compact that does not pay annually for operating costs. Still, “we have to hold people accountable at every level” of Metro, he argued.
For his part, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld appeared composed, testifying that he’s “moving in [the] direction” of disciplining Metro managers and staff who haven’t been following protocol (“deadwood,” as Rep. Barbara Comstock called them). “We tend to deal with things one-off, and that just cannot go on,” he said in initial remarks.
In closing the hearing, Meadows requested a report from Metro in 90 days that will discuss its progress in achieving safety goals and outline a plan for the following 90 days. As for Metro’s increasingly likely plans to close particular portions of certain lines for extended periods of time to conduct maintenance, Meadows told Evans, “Closing the Blue Line for six months is not an option.” The “opposite extreme” of only doing such work during late nights and weekends also can’t continue to be an option, Evans explained in reply.
The National Transportation Safety Board will release its final report on the 2015 L’Enfant Plaza smoke incident on May 3, NTSB Chair Christopher Hart testified.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery