LaHood gets earful in Virginia on recommendation of shrinking Metro’s board

ARLINGTON, Va. — Hired by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to come up with recommendations to get a problem-plagued Metro system back on track, former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood met with a group of Northern Virginia lawmakers and transportation officials to lay out some of his ideas.

One of his recommendations was installing a five-member board, appointed by the governors of Maryland and Virginia and the mayor of D.C., a board which he believes should not consist of elected officials.

“We need new blood, new thinking, new direction, from people who don’t have parochial interests,” LaHood said to members of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission on Thursday.

One sticking point with restructuring Metro’s board in the past has been the belief that the system’s founding documents, or compact, must be modified.

LaHood didn’t elaborate but did claim a legal way does exist to put the small board in control without touching the compact. He said a similar move was made in Boston three years ago to get its subway system back on track.

LaHood said his belief is a new board with a long term plan for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority could build the confidence of those who will end up footing the bill for the public transit system.

“It’s difficult because you have a current board, many of whom believe that if they had the money, things would be fine,” LaHood said. “Frankly I don’t quite see it that way.”

Since the recommended board would exclude groups like the NVTC from choosing members and be void of politicians, several members of the transportation commission feel Richmond, not Northern Virginia, would have all the influence.

“We see it all over the place in Virginia where decisions are made in Richmond but it’s the localities, in particular the Northern Virginia localities, that have the obligation to fund it,” said commission member and Falls Church Council member David Snyder. “That’s not an acceptable mismatch.”

LaHood said the intention would be that the small board work with local officials, but Loudoun County Supervisor Matt Letourneau said he will reserve some judgment until he sees the report.

But he added what he has heard so far has him somewhat skeptical.

“The general principle is that the folks who contribute the money have some sort of say in what happens with the system, and what is proposed is taking away that authority,” Letourneau said.

NVTC Chairman and Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay said his concern with a gubernatorial election underway, is the possibility would then exist that a board member on a “political crusade” could be chosen by the next leader of the commonwealth.

Commission member and Fairfax County Chairman of the board of supervisors, Sharon Bulova, said the priority should be coming up with an answer to where the estimated $500 million to fund Metro annually will come from.

“The funding issue is going to kill us,” she said.

LaHood said recommendations for the budget will be in his final report, which includes recommendations on dealing with issues such as so called legacy or labor costs for Metro. LaHood didn’t reveal if any of those recommendations will deal with a dedicated source of funding for Metro.

LaHood will present his report to McAuliffe later this month.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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