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Va. agrees with feds: Metro safety commission needed

Metro is used by riders to get in and out of the District. (Courtesy/WMATA/Larry Levine)

WASHINGTON — Metro safety now falls under federal oversight only because the region has failed to create its own real oversight agency, which despite earlier promises, will not be set up for more than a year.

Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne says the federal government is absolutely right to keep the pressure on, including a threat last week to cut up to $7 million in funding.

Layne says he understands why U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is so insistent on a new Metro Safety Commission, but says there have been complications getting the same language worked out to be presented to the Virginia and Maryland general assemblies and the D.C. Council.

“We agree wholeheartedly with Secretary Foxx that this needs to take precedence and all three of the jurisdictions — us, Washington, D.C. and Maryland need to be ready to go next year, and we look forward to working with them on that, but we think Sec. Foxx is absolutely right to keep the pressure on us,” Layne says.

“I think we’ll get there. The last few months we’ve done quite a bit,” he adds.

While D.C. does not have any similar rush, the general assemblies only meet for a limited amount of time in the winter and spring, which means any agreement would have had to be reached by now in order to get legislation passed by all three jurisdictions this year to set up the independent safety oversight agency with actual enforcement power. The existing Tri-State Oversight Committee has been hobbled by its format and unclear authority.

“There are the pieces to put together this puzzle to get the right state safety oversight set up and we just want a fire lit to make sure that happens,” Acting FTA Administrator Therese McMillan said in November after the Federal Transit Administration stepped into that void.

Staff from all three jurisdictions have been trying to hammer out the details of how the commission would be funded and authorized and how it would interact with the existing Metro Compact.

“In defense of everyone, [we] may have started too late, but there are some substantive issues to be dealt with in regards [to] the different laws of the jurisdictions, but [it’s] something we can get done,” he says.

The Metro Safety Commission was first proposed in 2010, and has been promised several times since. That includes following the investigations into the deadly smoke incident near L’Enfant Plaza last year.

This summer, there were promises the commission could be set up this year.

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