We need these freeways, and we need the Metro–badly. I have always believed, and today reaffirm my belief, that the Capital area must have the balanced, modern transportation system which they will comprise.
The early days of DC Metro construction, circa 1969.
“Responsibility begins at home,” President Nixon declared in one of his first major statements upon assuming the presidency. He was referring to the nation’s capital, a city suffering from an ever apparent, nationwide pattern of urban decay and a lack of sustainable infrastructure. Part of that responsibility meant establishing transportation prestige, the artery of a metropolitan economy. The 3 million people of the District of Columbia and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, and the 18 million visitors from across the country and around the globe who at the time were visiting D.C., expected more from the capital of a nation that had sent men to the moon. On this day 43 years ago, President Nixon issued a resounding statement urging action on the part of all concerned parties to see through the construction of the proposed D.C. Metro network and highway systems.
On the same day of RN’s statement, Representative Joel T. Broyhill of Virginia met with the President at the White House to discuss Washington metropolitan area highways and the METRO.
Without the efforts of the Nixon Administration to jump-start construction on the METRO system, it would be difficult to tell how Washington would function today. Development of the METRO plan began in 1960 with advocacy for an improved transportation system in the capital dating back as early as the 1950’s. After a long development incubation period, lasting through two previous presidential administrations, President Nixon undertook a personal effort to expedite a much needed transportation improvement for the city.
President Nixon’s words of encouragement came at a crucial time during the development of the METRO system. The entire process had been gridlocked due to funding issues, red tape, and many other bureaucratic obstacles. The statement of November 18th 1971 was a sudden shot in the arm for those working on the project and a pledge to help fill a several million dollar gap with federal funds, including a $70.3 million grant from the Department of Transportation.
By the time Nixon left office in 1974, limited service had begun on the original sections of the completed track, and by 1976, under the tenure of mostly all the same Nixon Administration staff, the METRO had become fully operational. By the end of the 1970’s, what had been a commuter railway plan struggling to get off the ground became a popular and efficient transportation network providing convenient services for Washington DC and several counties in Maryland and Virginia. Today the Washington METRO is the second largest commuter train system in the country behind only the New York Subway system and it is hard to imagine that such an accomplishment would have been possible had the Nixon Administration not been in the driver’s seat at such a critical juncture in the capital’s transportation plans.
Below, view primary source documents that demonstrate the Nixon administration’s efforts in securing funding for Washington D.C.’s transportation projects: