Real estate icon Til Hazel: Metro is ‘a political failure’

From The Washington Business Journal:

One of the people most responsible for developing Fairfax County and Northern Virginia is not thrilled with the current state of Metro.

“You’ve got a problem with Metro today. Metro is a political failure,” said attorney and local real estate development icon John “Til” Hazel. Hazel, 87, played a substantial role in the development of Tysons Corner, George Mason University and other regional fixtures, and he turned his often pointed criticisms on Metro during a wide-ranging talk with Graham Holdings Co. Chairman Donald Graham during the Stephen S. Fuller Institute Economic Forum Wednesday.

He said the current state of Metro, perceived as unsafe and unreliable, was due to local governments starving the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority for 40 years of the funding it needed to grow and thrive, as well as the lack of a strong leader who could push back against politicians and demand more. Hazel said he was satisfied with the current leadership of WMATA chief Paul Weidefeld.

Hazel’s remarks made no reference to the $500 million the states and the District have committed annually to Metro through an agreement approved earlier this year, but it’s clear he is not happy with the overall state of the transit system.

“The simple fact is you gotta pay for it. And if you are not going to charge the riders to pay for it then the local governments have to put enough money in to support it,” Hazel said. “But you can’t starve it for money and expect it to run.”

Hazel also had his doubts about Metro’s newest extension, the Silver Line through Fairfax and Loudoun counties, though Dulles International Airport.

“I am very concerned about ridership on the Silver Line. It’s only half of what was projected,” Hazel said. “The truth of it is I am not sure how many people who go to Dulles are going to ride the Metro.

Graham, the former Washington Post publisher and Facebook director who led the discussion, agreed, saying “nobody much.”

Hazel did not mince words on a variety of topics, turning his attention briefly to Maryland’s Purple Line, describing it as “a couple of billion dollars spent for no good reason” and saying the idea of Greater Washington turning an economic corner after sequestration was “wishful thinking.”

He said the lack of a bridge further north on the Potomac River, such as a connection between Virginia’s Route 28 and Maryland’s I-270, was “one of the major problems of the region today.” And he called on the government to loosen its housing regulations in order to spur more affordable development. And he criticized the high cost of education.

But Hazel repeatedly urged the business community to become more involved in local affairs and battle against an amorphous collection of groups opposed to development and growth — what he called the “antis.” He added that he has spent decades pushing for growth even during times when local governments were solidly opposed to it.

“The political world has got to realize the important things that are needed and that is critical for the business community to pursue,” Hazel said. “Without business support the politicians will continue to listen to the antis. And the antis don’t want any more people.”

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Copyright Washington Business Journal, reprinted with permission