Saleh Damiger (Washington Post)
Saleh Damiger (Washington Post)

After decades of deferred maintenance and neglect that has led to crashes, fires, and in some cases killing its own riders, the DC Metro will soon rip off the band aid with a year of painful closures and single-track operations affecting hundreds of thousands of riders. View the full closure details here. The intensive work will replace infrastructure that in many cases dates back to the first days of the system.

Meanwhile, at Sound Transit’s Executive Committee meeting on Thursday, Boardmembers were getting their first chance to review the draft ST3 financial plan when CFO Brian McCartan read a new proposed financial policy:

The Board will maintain capital replacement and maintenance reserves and annual budgetary amounts sufficient to fully fund the system in a state of good repair. Sufficient funds will be set aside to fully meet these obligations and their funding will have precedence over other agency expenditures.

Pausing to ask if Boardmembers had any questions, CEO Peter Rogoff turned on his mic. Perhaps mindful of his experiences in DC, he said, “There would be no greater crime that we could do to our children and grandchildren than to not do this.” Dow then chimed in as well: “I’m super excited about this. This is exactly the kind of thing government ought to be doing…We’ve had challenges over the decades with our roads and bridges, with our parents and grandparents investing in infrastructure and then not doing the things needed to maintain it.

Acting WSDOT Secretary Millar – whose agency has come under frequent fire for prioritizing highway expansion over maintenance – agreed, saying “As the manager of legacy assets, I think this asset management is a wonderful idea.” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers was stunned that such policy language was so unprecedented both nationally and locally, saying, “I’m shocked and appalled we have to even adopt such a policy, and that it wasn’t done earlier. We’ve had significant discussions at PSRC regarding the difficulties we’ve had with our highway system by not having such a policy.” So at the committee level at least there was unanimous agreement that such a policy is necessary and prudent.

This is very welcome news, basically codifying Fix It First as official policy. Let’s hope the Board agrees in June, and let’s hope that WSDOT someday follows their lead.

12 Replies to “How Puget Sound Will Escape DC Metro’s Fate”

  1. “Sufficient funds will be set aside to fully meet these obligations and their funding will have precedence over other agency expenditures.”

    Including debt service? Bondholders (and prospective bondholders) won’t like that.

    1. Debt service is a legal obligation, which, presumably trumps board policy statements. The point is not fund future expansions at the expense of maintaining the system we have. And, for the kind of money it takes to build an urban rail system, it absolutely should be a no-brainer to set aside money to keep it in good condition for the next 100 years.

    2. Prioritizing maintenance over expansions or recession service hours makes sense, but I’m concerned about prioritizing it over “all” other expenditures. The board should ask for a list of possible emergency needs that could occur or have occurred at other agencies, and verify that none of them would be more catastrophic if they were deferred because of this policy.

      1. While we’re waiting for the whole list, Mike…name one. And while you’re working on it, consider effect on other emergency services like the operating room at Harborview when gravity takes control of a crush-loaded train a quarter mile inbound from Tukwila International.

        If certain airlines had not deferred removal of some cabin seats, strengthening of flight control cabin bulkheads and doors, and upgrading of passenger inspections, a lot of maintenance on thousands of our people both in and out of uniform, and on the rest of the United States of America would not now be backlogged.

        Mark Dublin

  2. One thing STB does constantly is to hold WSDOT accountable for legislative decisions over what they’re funded to build, operate and maintain. As much fun as it is to play mode warrior and caricature WSDOT staff as highway expansion advocates, WSDOT doesn’t get to make those decisions, they come from the legislature. I wish you would check your reflex to demonize.

    1. +1 I wish there was more/better understanding of this.

      Want to fix it first? Tell the Legislature to fund maintenance of the existing system not highway expansion. Unfortunately, for elected it’s much sexier to tell your constituents that you got funding for a new or improved interchange or widening project than a paver or expansion joint repair.

  3. If you want to know the future of Link, don’t believe what the politicians and bureaucrats are promising you, simply look at what’s going on in other older systems. In other words, believe your eyes, don’t believe your ears.

    1. That’s because the people who ran the older systems were cheap and politicians preferred spending money on tax cuts and shiny new stuff instead of maintaining old systems. If we keep an eye out, we can make sure that money goes to maintenance here and we won’t have this issue at all.

      1. Worst thing about the seizure of the Republican Party by Southern Democrats that while many of the GOP were generally tight-fisted, at least they weren’t so prone to lying about double entry book-keeping.

        At any given time, the figures in the red debit column on a responsible balance sheet will add up to more than the black figures in the credit column.

        But the credit column stands for more than the money on hand. The represent the value of the money spent, or borrowed, and also, read over time, the increased value the expenditure will continue to bring.

        Meaning that red ink spent on maintenance creates a many times its value in black ink. Show your banker a wrecked train and attendant bills and tell him you didn’t want to incur a deficit by keeping up repairs.

        You won’t get another cute little piggy bank. And you Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion won’t love you anymore.

        So word to the Democratic Party, you’re 40 years overdue to learn accounting. And to the other major party: Get yourself some Republicans!

        Mark Dublin

    2. Which older systems?

      New York Subway seems to be doing OK, and they are vastly older than DC Metro.

      CTA L trains seem to be doing well, and in fact they’ve done things like eliminate a really silly S curve, and made a fair number of improvements to the red line in an upgrade a couple of years ago. Currently, they’ve working on a plan to make 100% of their antique L stations ADA compliant (only about 60% of them are today). They’re working on replacing a huge number of their L train cars.

      Boston? They’ve had a backlog of maintenance issues.

      Maintenance history depends on the agency.

      I dare say that the governance structure of the DC metro has significant impact on their current issues. Among other problems, right now there is no dedicated source of income for the DC Metro. Funding comes in bits and pieces from the city, and the states of Virginia and Maryland.

      1. “New York Subway seems to be doing OK”, says no one who actually rides the MTA everyday lmao…

  4. So if I support this policy, I need to put the June Sound Transit Board Meeting into my Google Calendar, yes?

    If so, I’m going. So should all of us. There is nothing like face forward in politics, nothing.

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