Invest in Infrastructure to Keep D.C. -- And America -- Moving

09/15/2011 07:18 pm ET | Updated Nov 15, 2011

Unless you're an engineer, infrastructure investment talk may not seem all that exciting. But it's critically necessary not just for us here at Washington Metro, but for the nation's transit systems, as well as our network of highways, bridges, tunnels, ports and aviation systems that serve as the economic backbone connecting cities and suburbs, and urban and rural communities. Infrastructure investment keeps America moving, provides and sustains jobs, ensures the mobility of goods used by families and businesses, and provides access to education and medical care.

Since the 1950s, our economy has been fueled by billions of dollars in ambitious road, rail and infrastructure projects. More recently, investment has slowed and so has the required funding to maintain the now decades-old systems, leaving transportation infrastructure to deteriorate. According to the Congressional Budget Office, U.S. spending on transportation and water infrastructure is currently 2.4 percent of the GDP, while Europe spends about 5 percent, and China spends 9 percent of its GDP on infrastructure. Around the world, governments are investing heavily in building new railways and roads, and maintaining their existing assets.

Some recall the brand new Metrorail system that opened in 1976 with gleaming new rail cars and a seat for every rider. The federal government and local jurisdictions invested more than $10 billion ($38 billion in today's dollars) to build the 106-mile, 86-station rail system known as "America's Subway." In the early years, the system ran like clockwork --becoming the nexus for a truly regional and growing economy -- and in years to follow, serving a critical role in times of emergency.

Underinvestment in recent years created a backlog of deferred maintenance and reconstruction which translates today into safety issues, less reliable service, obsolete rail cars, tunnel water leaks, mechanical breakdowns, and crumbling platforms on the 35 year-old system. We are digging our way out of a hole -- rebuilding tracks, signals, stations, and equipment to bring the system to a state of good repair. With the support of our jurisdictions and leadership from our Congressional delegation, Metro has undertaken an ambitious, $5 billion six-year capital program known as Metro Forward to improve system safety and reliability forcustomers.

Safe and dependable public transportation in the nation's capital -- also home to America's most congested traffic -- is vital to our mobility and our economic well-being. Without transit, the region would need to add over 1,000 lane-miles of highway to maintain current travel speeds. To put that in perspective, that would be the same as duplicating the entire existing Capital Beltway.

By supporting the development of walkable, mixed-use centers and communities, transit saves households time and money and builds long-term, sustainable real estate value. In fact, the value of real estate around Metrorail stations is estimated in the billions of dollars, generating valuable tax revenues to local jurisdictions. And by connecting workers to jobs, transit supports businesses growth needs. Businesses that locate near Metro improve their access to customers in the region and enjoy a competitive edge attracting employees with the skills needed to grow and expand.

As our region contemplates how to absorb growth equivalent to San Diego's size today, transit will make it possible to accommodate new households, enable business to grow, and to connect the two together in ways that strengthen our economy and improve the region's quality of life. Time to get excited.