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Transportation group backs McDonnell's proposal to add statewide appointees to Metro board

Anita Kumar

Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), who insists that he be able to appoint two members to the Metro's board of directors, is getting some support from from an unusual place.

Bob Chase, executive director of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, a business-supported group that lobbies for transportation funding and often find itself at odds with the new Republican governor, said he believes McDonnell's proposal makes "great sense."

"Having more professional 'heads and minds' focused on the big picture and how best to manage the overall system would be superior to a roster of inexperienced local heads that might be most concerned about local shares,'' Chase said. "It's not as though WMATA's recent track record is such that it is unreasonable to suggest that the injection of more people with more relevant experience would benefit all residents of all localities."

His views on the issue may not be well known, but Chase said he has been pushing for a statewide seat on the Metro board for years.

"Step back and ask yourself, 'What in the backgrounds of local elected
officials on the WMATA Board has prepared them to manage or guide a regional
transit network?'' Chase said.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration demanded that four federal members be appointed to the Metro board in exchange for $1.5 billion in federal funds. Chase said the federal appointment of Mort Downey has been a "real plus in terms of bringing in professional expertise with a national perspective."

Meanwhile, Reps. Jim Moran and Gerry Connolly, both Democrats who oppose McDonnell's action, sent him a letter late Thursday blasting him for threatening to withhold $50 million in exchange for the board members. They called it a "form of budgetary blackmail."

McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin called Connolly hypocritical for supporting the federal appointees, but not the Virginia ones.

"Now, Virginia is simply asking to be treated the same, and Mr. Connolly has suddenly changed his position completely,'' Martin said. ""Let's get serious, anyone can see this letter is just transparent and empty partisanship and apparently partisan affiliation is all that really matters to the letter writers. That is unfortunate, and it won't help fix a Metro system that is long overdue for serious reform and improvement."

Read the Moran/Connolly letter below:

June 17, 2010


The Honorable Robert F. McDonnell
Office of the Governor
Patrick Henry Building, 3rd Floor
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219

Dear Governor McDonnell:

We write to express our serious concerns that your administration's proposal to seat two state officials on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Board of Directors could imperil future federal funding.

As you know, under the terms of the WMATA compact, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) selects four of its members to serve on the WMATA Board. Historically, the board has allotted these slots to the Northern Virginia jurisdictions served by Metro. Your administration's proposal to condition the $50 million annual state match towards WMATA's new multi-year funding commitment with the federal government to the appointment of two state representatives, violates the Commonwealth's prior agreement, may be infeasible under current law, and risks unraveling current efforts to complete the purchase of desperately needed railcars.

Both the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia have committed to provide their $50 million local match. Therefore, the Commonwealth's refusal to do so, absent NVTC's capitulation, appears to be a form of budgetary blackmail. This is particularly troubling as it comes on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the tragic June 22, 2009, Red Line Metro crash. That terrible accident resulted in part due to insufficient funding for safety upgrades to the system and newer, safer railcars. Virginia's refusal to provide the match will have a number of negative impacts, the most troubling of which is the imperilment of the impending purchase of new 1000 series railcars. These cars are intended both to serve the long-awaited Dulles Rail project and improve safety throughout the Metro rail system.

We are open to a variety of WMATA governance reforms, and would not necessarily oppose direct state representation on WMATA's board should the Commonwealth actually appropriate operating subsidies comparable to the total funding effort of Northern Virginia's local jurisdictions. Such changes, however, are premature given the report on WMATA governance that is already in development by the joint task-force of the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Doubts as to the legality of a second state representative serving on the board have already been raised, because the Commonwealth has only one representative on the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.

Finally, there is also disagreement as to how Virginia's state financial contribution should be calculated. Historically, fares and parking charges paid by Metro riders have been included in the calculation. Only when these fares and charges are removed does Virginia's share become 50 percent of the overall contribution from Virginia, and only for fiscal year 2011. Even by this measure, the state's share exceeded the 50 percent only twice in the past decade.

While the state may have raised some legitimate issues that merit further consideration, we believe these issues should be raised at the task force since its report on WMATA governance is not due to be completed for several months. We urge you to delink the proposed changes in board representation from the state's funding commitment, so that critically needed rail cars and safety improvements can proceed without delay.

Sincerely,

James P. Moran Gerald E. Connolly

By Anita Kumar  |  June 18, 2010; 11:01 AM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar , General Assembly 2010 , Gerald E. Connolly , House of Delegates , James P. Moran Jr. , Robert F. McDonnell , State Senate  
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Comments

at the company where I work, we often have committees for various projects or whatever. I've learned that the more people on a committee, the less work gets done.
McDonnell is just making a power grab and trying to find jobs for his friends.

Posted by: MarilynManson | June 18, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

WMATA needs as much oversight as it can receive. Connolly and Moran are playing politics, they have no real substantive reason to deny the Governor from seating someone other than the political party influence. They didnt bother to comment when OMalley stated the same thing GEEZ, some conservative oversight might do WMATA some good.

Posted by: Fred23 | June 18, 2010 7:59 PM | Report abuse

The vast majority of the money for transit including Metro is paid by northern Virginia voters and taxpayers (fares, parking fees, and local taxes), so northern Virginia elected officials should make the decisions. Bob Chase and his group have long been anti-transit, but with some tactical softening over the past couple of years. He's always said he wants "appointed experts" to make all of our transportation decisions. We prefer elected officials who are accountable to the voters and who have to address both land use and transportation. Don't like their decisions, then vote them out. Do you know any of the appointees to the Metropolitan Washington Task Force, which can now set the tolls on the Dulles Toll Road? Ever seen the Post do a story on their meetings and finances? We've issued our own letter in response (will post soon at www.smartergrowth.net).

Posted by: csgstewart | June 19, 2010 7:33 AM | Report abuse

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