WASHINGTON — Area members of Congress from both parties are asking the feds to restore all or part of nearly $9 million in funding withheld from Metro after regional leaders missed a deadline to approve and set up a new safety commission.
In a June 30 letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, a bipartisan group of lawmakers called the Federal Transit Administration’s deadline “arbitrary,” “unreasonable” and “unrealistic” because it didn’t take into consideration the legislative calendars of the Virginia General Assembly or the General Assembly of Maryland.
The new safety program required D.C., Maryland and Virginia to agree on and approve new legislation and also required legislation at the federal level.
FTA announced in February it would withhold 5 percent of the area’s federal transit grants because the safety panel hadn’t been established yet.
The letter sought a compromise in which some of the withheld funds would be restored “as a show of good faith.”
The bipartisan letter was signed by Virginia Republican members of Congress Barbara Comstock, Bob Goodlatte and Scott Taylor as well as Democratic Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner.
All told, FTA’s decision to withhold funds has amounted to about $8.9 million in lost funding so far. That’s expected to hit $15 million by the end of September if the withholding continues.
Under a “worst-case scenario,” area transit systems “would be forced to make cuts to state of good repair efforts or reduce service to their respective communities, either of which would be harmful to our constituents,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.
A separate letter signed by Virginia and Maryland Democratic members of Congress, including Gerry Connolly and Elijah Cummings, asked FTA to restore all funding.
“The decision to withhold the funds … was crude, punitive, and arbitrary, and the process that led to the decision was deeply flawed,” the letter stated.
A string of deadly lapses including the deadly 2009 Red Line crash and the 2015 smoke incident at L’Enfant Plaze, helped spur the creation of the safety panel.
Legislatures in D.C., Maryland and Virginia as well as the U.S. Senate have all approved legislation setting up the Metro Safety Committee. It still requires a vote in the U.S. House.