State moves closerto deal to get seat on Metro’s board

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission swore in lawyer James Dyke to its board Thursday night and passed a resolution that gets closer to a deal to appoint him to the Metro board in January.

The resolution also urges Virginia to release millions of dollars it has withheld from the area to fund local transit agencies.

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) appointed Dyke in September to serve on the NVTC, which elects Virginia’s four representatives on the Metro board. McDonnell had long been trying to get a seat on the Metro board, saying the transit agency needs more oversight from state government.

Dyke will replace Thelma D. Drake, director of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation on the NVTC board. Drake will become an alternate to the 19-member NVTC board, which is comprised of local and state officials from Loudoun, Fairfax and Arlington counties and the cities of Falls Church, Alexandria and Fairfax.

Dyke’s appointment comes as Virginia is withholding $20 million from the NVTC. The amount is expected to come closer to $40 million by the middle of this month, according to the NVTC.

Each year, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation gives $168 million to the NVTC. The money helps fund Metro — which receives $93 million — Virginia Railway Express, and bus systems in Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties and Alexandria.

But the state says it won’t give the NVTC the money until it signs a revised annual contract that would allow Virginia to have a seat on some local transit boards. Metro board members have said they worry about violating rules for local transit agencies, including Metro.

Any change to Metro’s board seats would require a change in the agreement that governs the transit agency. It must be approved by Virginia, Maryland and the District, plus Congress and the president must sign it.

This isn’t the first time Virginia has withheld funds from the northern part of the state.

Last summer, McDonnell threatened to not pay Virginia’s contribution to a $3 billion federal funding plan for Metro’s capital needs unless the state received two of Northern Virginia’s four seats on the transit agency’s board.

The federal government agreed to give Metro $1.5 billion for capital needs over 10 years, but required that Virginia, Maryland and the District match the money. Virginia eventually paid its $50 million annual contribution. The amended contract does not affect that agreement, Drake has said.

Fifty-four entities across the state were asked to sign the amended transit contracts with the state. Only the NVTC, Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria have refused, state officials said.

Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton has said the state wants the right to appoint representatives to local transit boards but would only enact it if they thought there was a problem involving safety, governance or finances.

“Only if we foresee a problem,” he said, would the state get seats on other transit boards.

But the NVTC’s representatives on Metro’s board are skeptical and reluctant to give up their seats, especially as the Dulles rail project brings 23 miles of new track to Tysons Corner, Reston and Loudoun County.

In the NVTC’s new resolution, it said it expects the state to “immediately release” funds withheld from the transit group. NVTC board members called the resolution a “possible compromise.”

Lawyers for both groups will “work together to prepare a mutually agreeable document that clarifies the intent” of the revised contract from Virginia so it reflects that the state wants to have a single seat on the Metro board, according to the resolution. As part of the resolution, the NVTC would agree to appoint Dyke to the Metro board in January.

Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille (D), who is chairman of the NVTC and also on the Metro board, said the resolution is an attempt to try to reach a compromise and be “fair and reasonable.”

It is not clear who will step down from Virginia’s four seats on the Metro board to make way for Dyke.

There had been some concern among Metro board members from Virginia that the state was trying to secure two seats on their board — a voting member, already approved this year by the General Assembly, and an alternate, nonvoting member.

But Connaughton had said that the state is only looking for one seat on the Metro board.

David Snyder, vice mayor of Falls Church, said the state is withholding money for “something they deem important.”

After the resolution passed, 16 to 1, with Drake abstaining, members of the NVTC said they felt they had reached a compromise and hoped to get the funds released from the state soon.

NVTC member Sharon Bulova (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, called it “the most unpleasant meeting.” But she said she was “glad we were able to resolve things to the degree the funding will be freed up.”

Euille called the resolution a compromise.

“We’re going to appoint him in January,” he said. “There’s no need to hold up the money. Every day that monies are being withheld, there are delays in the transit services throughout Northern Virginia.” He said Alexandria is waiting to move forward on a $12 million project but can’t do it, because the city has not signed the governor’s contract.

Columnist Robert McCartney contributed to this report.

Dana Hedgpeth is the Washington Post’s lead reporter in covering the Metro rail and bus systems in the D.C. region and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) that runs them.
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