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June 26, 2009

DC Metro Crash Exposes Funding Strikeout

The Nation
by Dave Zirin

Nation sports editor Dave Zirin connects the dots among stadium giveaways, shortchanged infrastructure, mismanaged transit agencies and their catastrophic consequences. Monday, it was the District of Columbia. Next time, will it be New York City?

Who will be the next to die because our cities spend money on sports stadiums instead of basic infrastructure?

Two years ago, my former college town, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, was the site of thirteen needless fatalities when the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed. The tragedy occurred the same month that ground was broken on a $500 million stadium. Now, a mere ten minute walk from my home, two Washington, DC, Metro trains collided, killing nine and sending more than seventy-five to the hospital.

This is just too much to bear. My shock became anger as it became clear that none of these people had to die, that no one had to be hurt. This accident was about as predictable as the setting sun. The wreckage by my house is not an accident site. It is a crime scene. And it happened for one reason: the twisted policies of the underfunded Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The WMATA gets no dedicated federal funds despite the fact that it serves thousands of federal workers. In fact, it has no dedicated source of funds at all, depending on fares and ads for three-fifths of its budget.

The rest is a pittance from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, creating an underfunded, overstretched system called by the Brookings Institution "deficits by design."

All the dirty laundry that Metro riders catch whiffs of on their daily commutes is now in plain view. Employees have told the Washington Post that the first two cars of the striking train were two months overdue for maintenance on "braking components." In addition, the trains involved in the collision were recommended to be taken off the tracks altogether or significantly retrofitted back in 2006.

Even worse, we now know that Jeanice McMillan probably pressed the emergency brake and it did not respond.

The Metro has now become our broken levee: an utterly preventable tragedy if only people in government had the will to do the public good. And as in New Orleans, whose Superdome sucked up public money better spent on flood control, if publicly funded stadiums hadn't become a substitute for urban policy, we wouldn't be mourning today.

The boondoggle of government-funded stadiums is just one example from a society that provides handouts to billionaires at the expense of ordinary citizens' needs.


NoLandGrab: On Wednesday, a spokesperson said the MTA was "pleased that we were able to reach an agreement with FCRC that acknowledges the current economic situation while still protecting the MTA’s transportation and financial interests."

Will that deal protect the MTA's riders, too?

Posted by eric at June 26, 2009 5:32 PM