Local Commentary

Editorial: WMATA Needs Attitude Adjustment

While there has been a lot of lip service given to regional cooperation and collaboration, it appears that such factors remain in short supply around Northern Virginia, and especially when it comes to prospects for economic development around the West Falls Church Metro station.

As we reported last week, the Washington, D.C.-based Washington Area Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has been operating in its own universe, coming to the Fairfax County Planning Commission with a new plan for dense mixed-use development of the 24 acres it owns that now serve that station with surface parking. Despite all the calls for working with neighbors and seeking ways for joint development that have attended the City of Falls Church’s plans to economically develop 10 acres of its own in the same neighborhood, it turns out that the WMATA plans were developed, and submitted to the county last month, without the knowledge of either City of Falls Church officials or, for that matter, the Fairfax County supervisor in charge of that real estate.

To be clear, from what we can fathom, this problem lies not with anyone in the City of Falls Church. It is more symptomatic of the huge mismanagement that has attended WMATA in many of its operations, including running a safe rail line, for decades. The grievous mismanagement is due, among other things, with a highly unsavory attitude of indifference and Washington, D.C.-style arrogance. “Little” jurisdictions, which from the vantage point of D.C. include any place not in the capital itself or the mega-counties like Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince Georges, are simply told what to dish out as shares of costs to run the WMATA system, while ignored in all other relevant matters.

Last year, WMATA announced a big increase in costs required of Falls Church while also announcing the termination of one of its bus routes, the 3B, down Broad Street that many Falls Church residents relied on for commuting to their jobs. When Falls Church objected, it was met with a shrug.

From WMATA’s point of view, apparently, it has no obligation to be responsive to the many smaller jurisdictions it is tasked with serving, and from our point of view, this is reflective of the kind of problem that accounts for so much of what’s wrong, on an endemic level, with the system as a whole.

Congresswoman Barbara Comstock of the 10th District of Virginia issued a letter to WMATA yesterday complaining of “the constant unreliability and dangerous conditions of Metro” that “unfortunately continues,” and is reflective of “the dire need for fundamental reform.” Despite the “Back2Good” advertising campaign, she wrote, “people continue to experience a stark contrast with accidents, filthy facilities and crime,” citing the derailing of a train on the Red Line earlier this week as a latest example.

She’s drafted legislation, the METRO Accountability and Reform Act, and we hope the remedies it seeks include “attitude adjustment.”