A curious thing happened on the way to extending MetroRail to Dulles: The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA, ‘Metro’) unmitigated incompetence at running the existing system got noticed, and the Federal Transit Administration started asking why they should help fund an addition to a disintegrating system. Now, as a direct result of Metro’s spectacular inability to manage itself, a twenty-year overdue addition to our regional transportation system probably won’t happen. This, combined with the state government’s continuing redirection of Northern Virginia transportation money to Southern Virginia Rest Stop Renovations, has lined us up for a future of ever-worsening gridlock.

[Federal Transit Administration chief James S.] Simpson emphasized his concerns about Metro, likening the Dulles expansion to putting a two-room addition onto a house that is falling down. “First, you have to fix the house,” he said later at a news conference. “Metro’s operational issues have become really serious over the last several months,” he said. “I spent several hours with senior staff at Metro talking about their unfunded needs. They’re holding up some of their subway stations with jacks. They’re holding other subway stations up with two-by-fours and plywood. I could go on.”

While I would [have] love[d] to see Metro extended to Dulles [in the 1980s], I can understand the concerns about dumping 900 million federal dollars into an expansion to a subway system that costs more to ride than any other in the United States and yet, somehow, can’t manage to keep its trains, rails, and stations in basic operational condition. Presumably the planned line to Dulles would quickly become the grossly overpriced laughingstock that the rest of the system has become, and most commuters will quickly return to their cars (as I did in 2004 after three years of riding the steadily-degrading Metro to work).

There is good news though. Planners had decided on an ill-advised elevated track through the dense Tyson’s Corner area, which would have created a years-long traffic nightmare during construction. This was done to save some money—the superior plan would have put the rail lines underground through Tyson’s Corner, but would have cost more. Well, thanks to Metro’s incompetence, it’s a moot point now.