As a proud board member of the Thomas Jefferson Institute—an organization that provides thoughtful non-partisan analysis on the most pressing issues facing the Commonwealth—I feel compelled to respond to the December 27th op-ed that first ran in the Jefferson Policy Journal entitled, “Do Metrorail and Virginia Railway Express Really Boost Virginia Tax Revenues by $600 Million?” (Article found here.) While the article specifically called into question the validity of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission study, the general argument is that Metro is not a good investment for Virginia and it does not warrant additional funding. On this point, I must strongly disagree.
Virginia’s economic and global competitiveness depend upon having a world-class transportation infrastructure in place. Improving mobility and connectivity throughout the Commonwealth whether that be at the Port of Virginia, Dulles Airport, or Metro greatly impacts Virginia’s economy and should be prioritized to ensure the Commonwealth continues to position itself for success in an increasingly competitive global economy.
Right now, a vital piece of this transportation infrastructure is in need of repair. For too long an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach was taken in regards to Metro due to the political and jurisdictional complexities that surround the system. This approach cannot persist if Virginia wants to be competitive for both businesses and talent and regain the #1 ranking in best states to do business.
Virginia and Greater Washington have long relied on the federal government to sustain their economies, but since sequestration it has become apparent that this model is no longer sustainable. Thus, it is increasingly important to position the Commonwealth and region to not only compete but to win big economic development opportunities like it did with Nestle in 2017 and could do in 2018 with Amazon’s second headquarters—a win that could bring $5 billion in investments, 50,000 new jobs, as well as a reputation as the entrepreneurial leader on the east coast. It is worth noting that of Amazon’s four priority site requirements in its HQ2 RFP, one is access to mass transit.
Reliable transit helps to attract these new businesses that will directly impact the Commonwealth’s economy, which is why investing in Metro matters. Case in point, Nestle’s new U.S. headquarters in Rosslyn is located on top of a Metro station. This is not surprising when one considers the facts and figures behind the business community’s commitment to Metro in recent years:
• $25 billion of development has occurred near Metro stations over the past eight years.
• $235 billion of property value is within a half mile of Metrorail stations.
• 54% of all jobs in the region are located within a half-mile radius of Metrorail or Metrobus stops.
In addition to attracting new business, we must also ensure that the private sector industries that are already here are well-positioned to thrive and that we continue to retain our highly-educated and talented workforce.
Recent studies have revealed concerning population shifts, especially among millennials, that suggest investing in Metro is also an investment in our future workforce. A report from The Stephen S. Fuller Institute at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University revealed that Greater Washington lost about 2,000 people aged 25 to 34 from 2015 to 2016, whereas 13 of the 15 largest metropolitan areas across the country grew their share of this critical demographic. Additionally, the Millennial Index done by American University’s Kogod School of Business revealed that commuting continues to be a source of frustration for Greater Washington millennials and is one of the top five factors that influences their attitudes toward the area.
If we do not fix Metro now, Virginia and Greater Washington’s economic security will be compromised and our competitive position will be diminished in both the short and long term. Without Metro, we would need to double the size of the Capital Beltway and double the number of parking spaces in Arlington and the District’s Downtown to merely maintain the current travel conditions. With regional collaboration and leadership from Richmond, Annapolis, and the District of Columbia, we can put Metro back on a safe, smart, and sustainable path forward in 2018. But it’s going to require effective governance and dedicated, sustainable funding to deliver the improvements the system needs.
As someone who has served as chair of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, co-chair of the Joint Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Governance Review Task Force, and as the Commonwealth’s representative on the WMATA Board of Directors, I have seen first-hand the powerful impact of Metro on the economy of Virginia—an impact certainly worthy of statewide support.