Politics messed up Silver Line Phase 2 and is doing so again

Politics messed up Silver Line Phase 2 and is doing so again

This is essentially the deal being offered to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA). MWAA has been charged with building Phase 2 of the Silver Line that WMATA ultimately will operate. WMATA, which already is drowning in maintenance costs, contracted for MWAA to construct facilities with a 100-year life span. Instead, MWAA is asking WMATA to accept Metro stations that, before a single rider has passed through their turnstiles, are beset with cracking concrete panels.

But wait, it gets worse. MWAA, which built this deeply flawed project, already has paid the contractor building the project about $245 million more than the cost at which the contractor bid the project and that it is set to deliver about three years behind schedule, sometime in 2021. It is a hall-of-shame trifecta: The project is over budget, late and defective.

This blasé attitude toward the Silver Line is even more remarkable in light of the contretemps that exploded across the newspapers and television in 2011 and 2012 when Phase 2 of the Silver Line was being procured. Back then, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and Republican state legislators such as Barbara Comstock thundered with indignation that MWAA originally planned to build Phase 2 using the same union labor that successfully built Phase 1. Those politicians all claimed a mandate requiring union labor on the project would fleece taxpayers and toll-road riders and lead to financial disaster.

Unfortunately, these politicians succeeded in bullying MWAA to abandon its plan to use union labor on the project. Initially, these same politicians crowed about how they had saved the project hundreds of millions of dollars. Now, each of these politicians is out of office, and nobody is pretending that any money is being “saved” by the way this project has been handled.

Where are the outraged voices now demanding that WMATA be protected from being forced to accept this flawed project? Where are the politicians demanding that MWAA chief executive Jack Potter require the contractor to deliver the project MWAA promised to build, one with a true 100-year life span and no cracking concrete? Perversely, the fact that the project already is so over-budget and behind schedule is making elected officials afraid to demand the costly and timely fixes that the project needs.

WMATA is a public agency, and it is about to get railroaded by MWAA, which is looking to wash its hands of a project it botched, and by politicians who were willing to grandstand for the public interest only when it aligned with their anti-union ideology, but not when the only thing at stake was protecting the financial interests of the general public.

To return to the analogy of the house, no one would pay full price for a new house with cracking concrete, no matter how much the builder sang the praises of the silane coating. We all know we would view the house as a lemon and buy it only at a steep discount. If that is how we would act with our own money, why should we act differently when it is WMATA’s money at stake?

The public should be outraged at how this project has been mismanaged, and everyone associated with the project should be pressed into fixing the project to protect the public interest.

Read more: