ALEXANDRIA, VA- Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) visited the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission in Arlington yesterday afternoon to discuss the effect of COVID-19 on the region’s transportation grid.
Appearing with the senator at the socially-distanced meeting were 11 of the area’s transportation leaders, including the Virginia Secretary of Transportation and the executive director of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.
The meeting took place as Congress prepares to consider a $1.9 trillion COVID-relief bill that would help hard-hit industries such as transportation.
To open, Warner informed those gathered that he introduced a separate bill with senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) that, if passed by Congress, would fund the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) for the next decade. The legislation includes additional funding for key safety measures, oversight, and governance. Metro now receives $150 million in federal funding. The bill would boost that number to $200 million a year.
“Metro is the federal government’s transportation. Pre-COVID, 40 percent of the federal workforce used it,” Warner said. “If we didn’t have Metro, the federal government couldn’t operate, or it would cost even more.”
Paul Weidefeld, WMATA General Manager & CEO, shared that 80 percent of Metro’s income is derived from customers using rail, which has declined steeply in the pandemic.
“People will come back,” he said. “But they’re not coming back until they feel this thing is in the rearview mirror.”
The senator, who has been a career-long proponent of public transportation, spoke about the importance of infrastructure. He is offering support to the Biden Administration on a program.
Warner heard concerns about airline travel as well, including the lack of a standard for safety and depleting revenue. A few speakers mentioned the absence of a timeline for when flights will increase.
Last year, domestic flights decreased by 60 percent in the U.S. At Reagan National and Dulles, flights decreased by 70 percent.
Both transit and airports are stretching dollars. And Washington Airports Authority CEO Jack Potter spoke of the possibility that airports could go into debt all over the country.
Warner offered reassurance to everyone in attendance.
“The COVID-related funding, by the time this next package is completed, [will] be some of the largest expenditures in [federal government] history.”