I am not a political consultant, but if I worked for President Obama’s re-election campaign I would be concerned about the impression commuters in northern Virginia might be forming about the campaign’s “Forward” slogan. “Forward” is also the slogan used by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to explain why it is taking so long to repair the escalators at WMATA stations. The sign on an escalator at the Rosslyn station pictured above indicates that it will take from July to October to repair. To some commuters the unreliable escalators in Metro stations, and the length of time it takes to repair them, may symbolize inefficient and wasteful government spending.
The connection between public investment in projects like WMATA escalators and President Obama’s reelection campaign was reinforced when the President told us that successful small business owners and entrepreneurs owe credit for some of their success to public investment in transportation infrastructure. Recall that one month ago today in Roanoke, Virginia, President Obama said:
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help…. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.
There is no doubt that many transportation infrastructure projects have benefits that far outweigh their costs and require both public and private investments. Other projects, promoted by politicians from both parties, are laden with political pork. Still others, like WMATA escalators, are valuable to the community but seem to be completed at a glacial pace (and probably exorbitant cost).
Virginia is an important swing state, and the President must do well among independent voters in northern Virginia to carry the state. I suspect that few of the independent voters credit much of their professional success to the efficiency of WMATA. The President is correct in saying that these independent voters didn’t build the Metro system or its escalators, but they are also not responsible for the system’s inefficiencies and state of disrepair.