Testimony of Anthony Williams, Mayor of the District of Columbia
United States Senate
Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Monday, July 23, 2001
Good afternoon Chairman Reid, Senator Inhofe, and members of the committee. Thank you for this opportunity to testify before the Committee on Environment and Public Works’ Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Before I begin, I wish to also acknowledge Mayor Marc Morial of New Orleans, the new President of the U.S Conference of Mayors and a strong voice for transportation improvements, especially rail transportation. The Council of Mayors has been focusing on the transportation and infrastructure issues that are facing are major cities.
Transportation is a critical issue to the general public. In fact, in Washington, DC, transportation was picked as the second most important issue in our Neighborhood Action planning sessions -- second only to public safety. Neighborhoods are concerned about traffic, pedestrian safety, parking, development, and mobility. All issues that become increasingly significant as we attempt to increase the District’s population by an additional 100,000 residents over the next ten years.
I am sure you are all aware that nationally, the Washington Metropolitan area is classified as the third most congested area in the country. The District, though, can be part of the solution to this problem. Already, the District is the core of the metropolitan region and of the regional transportation network. It plays a vital role in the economic health of the region and in the region’s transportation. One-third of the region’s office space and nearly 500,000 jobs are located here. And these jobs are concentrated. We have the second largest concentration of jobs in the country, after New York City and tied with downtown Chicago.
Job concentration is part of the solution to gridlock because it reduces travel distances and the number of trips. Also, concentrated job centers can be more efficiently served by mass transportation. Washington, DC is second only to New York City in the number of commuters who use mass transit every day. More than 50 percent of District residents use mass transit for their home to work trip each day. This saves energy and saves money that would have to go into building many more highway lanes to serve those riders if they drove.
However, many people do drive to the District each day. The District is already second only to New York City’s Manhattan in the number of cars that enter downtown every weekday. These users of the District’s road infrastructure are largely from outside the city. In fact, approximately 70 percent of the cars on our roads each day are registered outside the District – and because of the District’s unique financial structure, these vehicles do not contribute significantly to the maintenance and capital costs they impose directly on our transportation infrastructure.
The District is also the largest contributor to the operations and capital costs of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) – known to most as METRO. The District pays nearly 40 percent of both operating and capital costs of the METRO system. And while the recent growth in METRO ridership, the highest in the country in some categories, ensures traffic does not come to a complete standstill, it has a substantial impact on the District’s finances. Its like that old joke: “We’re losing money on every unit, but we are making up in volume.” Metro ridership increases cost the District more each year in operating subsidy payments, increasing roughly 10 percent between Fiscal Years 2001 and 2002 – one of the largest jumps in any District program.
The Federal presence has a major impact on the District’s unique transportation role. Federal workers account for one-third of METRO riders and as the District’s largest employer, the federal presence adds to the heavy burden on our roads.
This special relationship to Washington and the region has not gone unrecognized by the federal government over time. There have been significant federal contributions to two of the most important regional transportation projects ever undertaken. These are the long-term investment in METRO and the new Wilson Bridge. Both of these attest to the role the District can play as a model for transportation improvements. METRO and the new Wilson Bridge show that the federal government has recognized the unique role the District plays in the region and as the Nation’s Capital.
Thus, as we examine how to maintain and improve the District’s transportation infrastructure, we look for the federal government to assume a special role in recognition of this special relationship.
Maintaining this transportation infrastructure, much less improving or expanding it is very costly. While Federal Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), has provided almost $100 million per year in much needed assistance for transportation capital, operations and maintenance, this is not enough.
This inequity can be summed up as a “tale of two cities” for our non-transit transportation infrastructure. One is the Federal City. This is a city with less than 450 miles of roads and a $250,000 annual per mile fund for maintenance and improvements. Not surprisingly, more than 70% of these roads are in good or excellent condition.
The other is the local city with nearly 650 miles of roads that have just come out of a five-year period of almost no investment. Although we are now spending $8,500 per year per mile for maintenance or improvements, 50% of local roads remain in fair or poor condition.
Transportation Funding for Today
As you can see, shortfalls in transportation funding represent one of the biggest challenges to improving mobility in the District and the region and keeping it economically viable. The District, as part of the region’s long term transportation planning process, identified anticipated funding sources over the next 25 years at $11 billion. This includes both $100 million per year in federal aid and local taxes dedicated to the transportation system.
A 1998 lifecycle analysis by the Federal Highway Administration found an anticipated $1 billion needed in the next six years for transportation improvements. Since the study, our needs have increased as have our costs, further exacerbating the funding dilemma.
Unfortunately, this level of funding will not keep pace with the continuing need to rehabilitate, maintain and expand transit services, resurface streets, fill potholes, fix curbs and sidewalks, provide bikeways and implement other traffic calming and roadway safety improvement projects.
Perhaps the single largest long-term transportation-related financial constraint facing the District and the region is the investment needed in METRO in the forthcoming ten to twenty-five years. METRO estimates a $3 billion preservation funding gap over 25 years for the its Infrastructure Renewal Program, with the District’s share being $1.2 billion. This is over-and-above what the District has already pledged to METRO improvements. In addition, METRO capital needs are underfunded by $100 million annually, representing another $40 million in unfunded District obligations. These investments are needed to simply maintain the METRO’s ability to deliver its core services given the current rate of ridership growth.
The District, like other cities, also face a brewing problem under its streets. Aging utility infrastructure, including power and gas lines, as well as new technologies (such as fiber optic lines) are putting strains on cities’ ability to manage and control their rights-of-way. Perhaps most challenging is the problem of combined sewers. In the District alone, this largest source of water pollution will cost upwards of $1 billion to address.
One of the most creative proposals to meet this need has been put forward by our Congresswoman, Eleanor Holmes Norton. Her DC Non-resident Tax Credit Act proposal would transfer to the District an amount equivalent to two-percent of the income earned by non-District residents working in the city. This would produce some $400 million for the District and earmarking a part or all of this for transportation improvements would make a significant dent in the District’s, and the region’s transportation needs.
Clearly, funding shortfalls represent one of the biggest challenges to improved mobility in Washington, D.C. and in the regions. Working on long-term—25 year— regional funding needs, we have discovered that both Maryland and Virginia are experiencing similar challenges and we look forward to working with Congress and our neighboring jurisdictions on solving our shared transportation problems.
While funding our existing infrastructure is a major concern to the District, we need to look beyond what we are doing today. For the last fifteen or twenty years the District has been largely replacing or rehabilitating its existing transportation system – major pieces of which are nearing their useful life. Therefore, we are now presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to plan, design and build the transportation system for the new millenium, serving our city, its citizens and visitors as they now live, work and play.
We need to look at our major transportation gateways and devise ways to make them more attractive and functional. For example, the New York Avenue and South Capitol Street corridors do not present the appropriate grand entrance into our city that they should. Major bridge projects such as the Theodore Roosevelt and South Capitol Street bridges represent opportunities to redesign these connections in a way that suits our monumental city and better serves commuters, citizens and guests.
Pennsylvania Avenue should be reopened in a way that both serves the needs of the 26,000 citizens who used to pass by the White House each day and those who live and work within that historic structure. The access to the Kennedy Center needs to be improved, reuniting that world class facility for the arts with the rest of the District and the monumental core.
Access to and around our hidden jewel, our Anacostia waterfront needs to be enhanced by building the Anacostia Riverwalk and improving access across the Anacostia freeway. Our other freeways, the Southeast/Southwest and the Whitehurst have to be studied for ways to alleviate the barrier they represent between communities and the Georgetown Waterfront, respectively.
We also need to look at our transit infrastructure and how we can grow that to support the District’s own rebirth and internal mobility needs. Two new transit routes that need to be explored include building – finally – the long needed subway connection to Georgetown. In addition, the District should revisit the mistake made almost exactly forty-years ago when Congress mandated the removal of our world-class light rail system. Possible routes for a new trolley include the then-most popular trolley route – and currently most popular bus route – of Georgia Avenue to Seventh Street. This route could connect with the new Convention Center, our reawakening retail district and the reborn Anacostia waterfront, and Southeast Federal Center.
The District is also looking at the longer term future of transportation by joining with Maryland to compete for a Federally-sponsored Magnetic Levitation Rail (MAGLEV) demonstration project. If funded, this project would whisk riders between Washington and Baltimore in roughly twenty minutes – essentially rendering each city a neighborhood of the other. This sort of aggressive, visionary thinking is what Washington and Baltimore will need in order to successfully compete for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Washington, D.C. Reborn
Our Olympic bid signifies the culmination of the process we have begun in rebuilding Washington, D.C. in terms of its financial stability, its attractiveness as a home, its perception and reputation and its importance in the region. As part of this symbolic rebirth we must commit to rebuilding, refreshing and improving the arteries and passageways that serve our Nation’s Capital.
I believe that one can tell a lot about how a city is doing by looking at its infrastructure – its roads and trees and sidewalks and signs. A city that is doing well and is well managed has a well-maintained infrastructure. It sends a signal to its citizens and visitors through its transportation infrastructure – its largest, most valuable and visible asset – that it cares and is a good steward of resources entrusted to it. We have made great strides during my administration to send that message and I look forward to working with each of you, the Committee and Congress to keep moving forward.