Who will be the next to die because our cities spend money on sports stadiums instead of basic infrastructure?
Two years ago, my former college town, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, was the site of thirteen needless fatalities when the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed. The tragedy occurred the same month that ground was broken on a $500 million stadium. Now, a mere ten minute walk from my home, two Washington, DC, Metro trains collided, killing nine and sending more than seventy-five to the hospital.
I spent most of Monday evening on the phone, either assuring people that my family was safe or checking on friends to make sure no one was in the hospital or worse. My loved ones were all in one piece. The parents of my little girl’s friends were secure, although several had been on the trains involved, shaken up for sure but not grievously injured. The relief was palpable, even physical. But then the stories started to be released in small doses, and relief turned to horror.
There were the families of the dead on television: the inconsolable loved ones of train operator Jeanice McMillan, 42; David and Ann Wherley, both 62; Mary Doolittle, 59; LaVonda King, 23; Veronica DuBose, 29; Cameron Williams, 37; Dennis Hawkins, 64, and Ana Fernandez, 40. A teacher, a young mother, a retired National Guard major general, a woman who cleaned office buildings while raising six children–all gone, leaving devastated friends and family behind.
Then there are victims like 14-year-old Lanice Beasley. The tendons in her legs were severed. While she waited for rescue, Lanice comforted a severely injured woman who ultimately perished right next to her on the ground.
From her hospital bed, Lanice spoke to the press in a fading voice and kept losing consciousness, but she managed to reveal details of the ordeal: “We were by a dumpster on the ground. I saw her die. She died right there.”
This is just too much to bear. My shock became anger as it became clear that none of these people had to die, that no one had to be hurt. This accident was about as predictable as the setting sun. The wreckage by my house is not an accident site. It is a crime scene. And it happened for one reason: the twisted policies of the underfunded Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The WMATA gets no dedicated federal funds despite the fact that it serves thousands of federal workers. In fact, it has no dedicated source of funds at all, depending on fares and ads for three-fifths of its budget.
The rest is a pittance from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, creating an underfunded, overstretched system called by the Brookings Institution “deficits by design.”
All the dirty laundry that Metro riders catch whiffs of on their daily commutes is now in plain view. Employees have told the Washington Post that the first two cars of the striking train were two months overdue for maintenance on “braking components.” In addition, the trains involved in the collision were recommended to be taken off the tracks altogether or significantly retrofitted back in 2006.