(CNSNews.com) - The Metrorail system that serves the capital of the free world has dangerous, frayed electrical cables, an unmotivated workforce, reduced ridership, and a new manager who is determined to make changes after years of neglect.
On Wednesday, the chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) told Congress that Metro needs around $25 billion over the next 10 years to run the system, address critical safety issues, and catch up on a ten-year backlog of neglected maintenance. Chairman Jack Evans said the system also faces a $2.5-billion unfunded pension liability that it has no plan or ability to address.
And if Congress doesn't pony up, "next time something happens, I'm blaming it on you guys," Evans said in a heated moment at the hearing of a House Oversight subcommittee.
In response to Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, who questioned why federal taxpayers should assume additional financial burdens for a mismanaged system, Evans got angry:
"Congressman, let me just say this. If you want me to come up here and give you good news, I'll be glad to do that, but if you want to hear what we really need to do, that's the only reason I'm here. And if you just give me thirty seconds, I'll just tell you why I'm here--"
"If you want to get testy about it, I've got the numbers!" Meadows cut in. "And if you're looking at increasing the operating revenue the way that you're talking about, you become the most expensive operating system -- more expensive than Chicago, more expensive than New York, more expensive than Pennsylvania -- so why would you have the highest operating costs out there -- I mean, what would justify that? So if you want to look at numbers, let's look at that!"
"We're the second largest transit system in America, so that justifies--" Evans started to respond.
"New York is higher, Chicago is higher," Meadows corrected him.
Then Evans interrupted Meadows: "If you've had the opportunity to travel the world as I have and go to Beijing, Shanghai, Paris, London, Moscow and see a world-class system -- this system (Washington) has become an embarrassment in the nation's capital, and we are all in this together--" Evans said.
"Those are all communist countries, Mr. Evans," Meadows said.
"Paris, London communist countries?" Evans asked incredulously. "They are capital cities. And if we want a world class system like they have, the federal governments in those countries pay for all of the system. All I'm asking from you is $300 million (a year in operating costs), which is your fair share, given the fact that we transport fifty percent of your workforce every day.
"You want them to be safe. You want this to be reliable," Evans continued. "Or do you just want to leave here like we did in 2005 and do nothing? And if we do that, next time something happens, I'm blaming it on you guys, because we need your help!"
"You're the one that's been on the (WMATA) board," Meadows noted. "So how can you blame us? "You're the ones making the decisions."
Evans has been on the board for a year, rejoining it on January 8, 2015 after two earlier stints on the board in the 1990s. Four days after he rejoined the board in January 2015, an electrical problem sent smoke billowing through a subway tunnel, killing one woman and injuring dozens of others.
In his opening statement to the subcommittee, Evans noted that Metro essentially has two sources of operating funds: A total of $900 million ($300 million each) from D.C., Virginia and Maryland; and $900 million from the fare box.
Evans on Wednesday asked federal taxpayers to contribute $300 million a year in operating funds, something it's never done before, although the federal government did pay two-thirds of the cost to build the system in the first place.
Evans also wants a "dedicated funding source" that produces $1 billion a year for Metro: "Whether it's a sales tax, property tax near Metro stations, gas tax, or a mix, a dedicated funding source is something that should have been set up before a single piece of track was laid," he said.
Subcommittee chair Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said the problem isn't money -- it's "incompetence" and mismanagement. He told Metro's new general manager he's counting on him to turn things around.
"I am telling you, I am not going to bail you out," Mica said, noting that no other system in the country has more resources available to it that WMATA.
Evans addressed Mica's remarks: "Mr. Chairman, when you're saying you're not going to give us a dime? Really? That's what you're saying? We need resources for this system. This is your system. This is my system. You're going to put your kids, your parents on this system that is a system like it is today? Really, give me a break! We really have to step up."