The latest proposed transportation plans for the Washington DC region would continue to starve the Metro mass transit system for sorely-needed funds, while earmarking billions for new road projects, environmental groups said today.
In formal comments to the Transportation Planning Board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Earthjustice, on behalf of Environmental Defense, Sierra Club, and Audubon Naturalist Society, warned that draft transportation programs released earlier this month violate the Clean Air Act and other federal regulations by failing to adequately maintain the existing mass transit system.
"Hardly a day now goes by without breakdowns somewhere in the Metrorail or Metrobus systems," said David Baron, an attorney for Earthjustice. "Yet regional officials are failing to provide the funding needed to maintain even the current degraded level of service -- much less what would be required to improve or expand the system. Instead, the latest proposals include massive new spending for new and bigger roads."
According to Metro officials, the Washington area's transit system is on "life support," and requires a major infusion of funds to maintain current service levels. WMATA figures show that the distance between rail failures has plummeted by nearly 30% in just the last two years. According to published reports, Metro's rail cars are breaking down nearly twice as often as they did three years ago, creating increasing delays across all lines when ridership is surging.
The plans also fail to address overcrowding, already a serious problem on many buses and railcars. Metro predicts that, without a major infusion of new funding, overcrowding will become "unmanageable" on the Orange line by 2008, on the Blue line by 2009, on the Red and Yellow lines by 2010, and on the Green line by 2011. More than $140 million in additional funding is also needed for security and emergency response.
Metro predicts that failure to correct delays, overcrowding, and other problems will drive people away from transit, thereby worsening the region's traffic congestion. Yet the latest long-range plans for the region's transportation needs assume that transit ridership will not drop, even though the same plans fails to provide adequate transit funding. This faulty assumption will lead to increased air pollution in a region already overburdened by unhealthy levels of smog and other air pollutants, the groups contend.
The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation must reject these draft plans, the environmental groups state in their comments, and send regional planners back to the drawing board to develop plans that will fix the regional transit system and protect public health.