15 Nov 2017
Barbara Comstock’s plan for Metro gets crushed in Ray LaHood’s landmark Metro report.
According to an advance copy obtained by the Washington Post, Comstock’s call to “blow up” the Metro compact was rejected out of hand by LaHood’s study, which found instead that “WMATA can be improved without opening the Interstate Compact that governs it.”
This long-awaited Metro report highlights Barbara Comstock’s inability to help us solve Metro’s most pressing issues.
The Washington Post warned us about this back in 2011, when they complained Comstock’s rigidity makes “a mockery of her stated commitment to tackle transportation problems.”
Instead of solving Metro’s problems, Barbara Comstock just uses Metro as a punching bag to push her harsh anti-union rhetoric, driven by ideology and her conservative donors. She complains about the union, while staging mindless photo-ops that accomplish nothing.
In an interview last year, Comstock admitted she doesn’t ride the Metro and that she prefers to drive with Waze. She has also falsely claimed that Metro labor costs are too high, but preliminary results from LaHood showed that Metro labor costs are in line with other major transit systems. The final LaHood report confirms this finding:
The LaHood report finds Metro’s overall labor costs are average compared with similar transit systems — with the exception of some pension benefits that are too generous and should be trimmed.
LaHood is a former Republican congressman and former Secretary of Transportation. He has no ideological or other reason to lie about how to fix Metro.
Don’t get us wrong. Metro is a mess. The system is under-capitalized. Metro was “built 40 years ago and left to die.”
Even Metro’s union president says:
“This is the one thing that I agree with Donald Trump on: Our infrastructure has been [allowed to] go to hell. That’s no secret. Highways are in collapse; subway systems are in collapse; bus systems are in collapse.”
Metro needs more capital to properly maintain the system and invest in new technology that will lower labor costs and improve operational efficiency. For example, automated track inspection machines would improve safety and lower costs.
But this requires capital investment or a dedicated funding stream, which in turn requires flexibility and a bipartisan agreement from the DMV and from a cooperative Congress.
Barbara Comstock hasn’t delivered any of that. She is not even trying. Instead, she uses her position on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to collect campaign cash from rail executives like Wiggie Shell. (We estimate that Comstock is on track to collect more than $200,000 from rail executives before the end of the 115th Congress - pun intended.)
Barbara Comstock’s rigidity and her refusal to push back against Trump and the Freedom Caucus make her the wrong person to solve Metro’s financial problems.
The Washington Post predicted this scenario in 2011 and then savagely criticized Comstock again in 2013 while writing about a recent transportation bill:
“Take Ms. Comstock, whose constituents in McLean, Vienna and eastern Loudoun grapple with some of the region’s worst traffic. On her blog, she touts her recent initiatives relating to testing for Lyme disease but devotes not one word to the transportation bill, which will generate more than $1 billion annually for roads and rails.”
The Post added that, “many Republicans barely bothered to explain their no votes. Most clung to the fantasy that Virginia could cannibalize money for roads from other services, like education.”
The Post might also have added that Barbara Comstock dislikes public transit so much she even voted against the Silver Line extension that now serves our region.
Comstock’s time in office has been spent fruitlessly attacking Metro’s labor union and the compact while ignoring Metro’s fundamental problems: under-investment, and uncertainty about state and federal support.
Barbara Comstock is a rigid, ideological dinosaur in a rapidly changing modern era that requires imagination and flexibility from our elected officials.
Maybe it’s time for her to retire.