The top executives the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority came together Thursday morning to talk about the progress their organizations have made over the past several years—and what’s left to do.
Both Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld and MWAA President and CEO Jack Potter were brought in to help right large and important but beleaguered transportation systems. Wiedefeld has overseen an influx of investment and an intensive repair and update program to address Metro’s notorious safety, reliability, and financial challenges. Potter has helped pull Dulles Airport out of a spiral of increasing costs and decreasing passenger counts and attracted new airlines and government investment.
And during the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce’s latest PolicyMaker Series breakfast Thursday morning, both said there is work yet to do. They asked the business leaders gathered in the room to keep pushing and advocating, particularly with government leaders.
“We move a million passengers a day, and you can imagine what that would do—those passengers without our system—what that would do to traffic,” Wiedefeld said. “That’s why it’s so important that we get this thing right into the future.”
“In the upcoming budget year, we have to come up with, internally, another $38 million in savings,” Wiedefeld said. “Last year, we had to cut $100 million internally. So that is the commitment that we’ve made to local jurisdictions, that we’re going to keep a very fine pencil on our budget.”
He said the rail system has done much of what it can do internally, but also needs help from the multiple jurisdictions it serves—including Loudoun starting in 2020, and the federal workforce.
“We feel the federal government has a role. We move roughly 30 to 40 percent in the rush hour of federal employees. … We are unique in the country, and we feel that they have a role, so we need to keep that pressure on.”
The two also share a personal relationship going back before their current postings, and their two organizations are indelibly linked—the airports authority is construction Metro’s Silver Line extension, including a station at Dulles Airport, and Potter said Reagan National Airport has the highest percentage of people getting off a plane and onto a train in America “by far.”
“We totally rely on each other, and will continue to do so,” Potter said.
He said Dulles has turned its problems around with the support of business and government leaders, and put a focus on shifting growth from Reagan to Dulles.
“Air service growth at Reagan is nearing a max,” Potter said. “We’re up to 24 million passengers at Reagan, 22 million at Dulles, so just think about that—that’s really kind of not what was intended. It was intended that the growth would be out here.”
Reagan is designed to serve local and regional flights, while Dulles is meant to serve more transcontinental and international flights, but the two airports have been put into conflict as Congress has passed exemptions to a rule restricting the maximum distance of destination from Reagan.
Dulles has also begun working on bringing in revenue from other areas than aviation, including monetizing its vast undeveloped tracts of real estate surrounding the airport.
Potter also said the two transportation giants make the area an ideal landing place for Amazon’s new headquarters.
“If you think about it, what is Amazon asking for?” Potter said. “Well, they want access to a highway, we have it. They want access to an airport, we’ll talk about the reach of this international airport. And they want Metro—with Paul, they will have the Metro, so it couldn’t be a more ideal situation than that.”
Potter faced a question from the audience about problems with the prefabricated concrete panels used to build some parts of the Silver Line extension. He said the airports authority and its contractors believe they have a plan to adequately address the concern. The concrete will have to be treated every 10 years to maintain it.
“We have a path forward and we are confident that that concrete will be there 100 years from now, assuming Paul treats it every 10 years as required,” Potter said.