Bill on Metro safety commission lands in Congress

WASHINGTON — Leaders from the D.C. region in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are introducing legislation that they hope will kick-start the creation of a new Metro safety commission and prevent the federal government from withholding millions of dollars in transportation funding.

The Federal Transit Administration announced last week that it would withhold the money from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia until the three jurisdictions establish the commission to oversee safety on the rail system.

In an interview with WTOP Thursday morning, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, said the situation was “unfortunate” and “difficult,” and explained why members of Congress were stepping in.

“We’ve worked it out very, very carefully with all stakeholders,” Kaine said. “We think it should give both Metro users and the FTA additional assurance that safety comes first.”

Kaine, one of the lead sponsors, said the legislation will give formal congressional approval to the jurisdictions to set up the commission.

Legislation to create the oversight body has passed the D.C. Council and has been signed by the mayor, but it is still making its way through the Virginia and Maryland general assemblies.

“It’s pending before the legislatures of both states, but it also needs to go through Congress,” Kaine said. “We hope that by showing this sense of urgency about it, we can convince the FTA not to withhold funds.”

The move by the FTA, which took over safety oversight of Metro in October 2015, comes after the states and the District missed a Feb. 9 deadline to get the State Safety Oversight Program in place.

Federal officials said they will withhold about $8.9 million from D.C. and the two states through April. That could grow to roughly $15 million through the end of fiscal 2017 if the commission isn’t created by then, officials said.

The money won’t be released until identical legislation is signed by all three jurisdictions and the commission meets certain requirements and is certified by the FTA, officials added.

The FTA stepped in to provide Metro safety oversight on a temporary basis after a deadly electrical malfunction and other accidents shook confidence in the nation’s second-busiest transit network. In January 2015, a passenger was killed and more than 80 others sickened after a malfunction caused a train to fill with smoke inside a downtown D.C. tunnel.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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