A Deadly Metro Incident Highlights America’s Infrastructure Deficit
Policy + Politics

A Deadly Metro Incident Highlights America’s Infrastructure Deficit

  • D.C. transit faces $16 billion funding gap, according to a new report
  • Regional infrastructure spending faces a $24.5 billion shortfall overall
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Just two days after a deadly accident on the Washington, D.C. Metro system left one woman dead and dozens of people in the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation, a new report due out Wednesday details how a $24.5 billion gap in infrastructure spending over the coming decade could create more problems for the region’s commuters.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ State of the Region Infrastructure Report, which was completed last month and issued today, finds that public transportation alone, including Metro, is responsible for $16 billion of the projected shortfall.

Related: Obama Wants Long-Term Infrastructure Plan, Not Keystone

Officials are still investigating what caused a tunnel outside Washington’s L’Enfant Plaza station to fill with smoke on Monday, leaving passengers stranded aboard railcars struggling to breathe. Early media reports, however, suggest that the cause was some sort of electrical problem that affected the power supply feeding the electrified third rail.

Washington commuters, however, are all too familiar with the system’s frequent outages and slowdowns. Everything from rain to snow to unusually high or low temperatures can, and does, tie the system in knots on a fairly regular basis.

“At the age of 47 years, Metrorail is in need of many repairs and routine maintenance is essential to keeping the system operating properly and on-time,” the report found. While a capital improvement plan aimed at completing deferred infrastructure is in place, the funding runs out in 2020, despite the fact that the system’s overall track capacity is being increased by 25 percent.

Related: Governors Join Obama in Infrastructure Spending Plea

“Underfunding Metro repairs and upkeep will produce more delays, service disruptions and crowded conditions,” the report warned.

Unfortunately, as Monday’s incident shows, inconvenience isn’t the worst thing that infrastructure problems can cause.

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