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D.C. region's three leaders agree: Metro needs to be safer

It was sort of like the Three Tenors of Washington politics, the way that the leaders of the Washington metropolitan area's three principal jurisdictions met Tuesday morning in Alexandria, and then appeared in front of cameras and spotlights to harmonize on the subject of regional cooperation.

Their theme was making Metro safer after a series of crashes, including the deadliest crash in the system's history last June.

All three -- Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty -- took turns agreeing that Metro's safety record is bad, and that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the agency that runs Metro, needs better management.

All three agreed that they wanted to have better oversight over WMATA's management and the people they appoint to run it.

All three were more than a little vague about how this would happen, except to say they would ask Congress to make legislative changes. And they agreed to meet and talk some more.

McDonnell, speaking as quickly as if he were running to catch a train, said there was a collective desire to push for a greater hand in Metro management, although the three jurisdictions are constrained by the terms of the 40-year-old regional compact that governs WMATA.

"I think we have some consensus that some improvements are needed in that compact to give us more oversight," McDonnell (R) said.

"I think, quite frankly, we agree we need more accountability at WMATA," Fenty (D) said.

"We would like to have more direct oversight over WMATA, and not less," O'Malley (D) said. "And I think that was the bottom line coming out of today's discussions."

"Exactly how will you exact more oversight?" a reporter asked. McDonnell said they were somewhat constrained by the compact, but would seek legislative changes with their federal partners and, in Virginia's case, the General Assembly.

In a news release, the three said they would add new layers of managerial oversight. The Tri-State Oversight Committee would receive "additional executive authority" with monthly reviews and reporting requirements. Longer term, the group would push for a new commission overseeing safety or seek more federal oversight.

The three also touted a drop in murders in the region, which they attributed to increased cooperation between the jurisdictions. Murders fell by 25 percent in Northern Virginia, 24.5 percent in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and 23 percent in the District.

After a brief Q&A, O'Malley and McDonnell sprang for the fleet of cars waiting outside to drive them away. Fenty hung around and chatted with reporters. Then he left, too.

In a Smart car.

-- Fredrick Kunkle

By Fredrick Kunkle  |  April 20, 2010; 11:36 AM ET
 | Tags: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority  
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