A bit of good news in what has been a difficult week for officials at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority: Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) announced this week that $150 million in funding for the transit agency has been included in the Senate’s version of the bill that would fund the Department of Transportation.
But the money would come with strings.
First, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will have to approve how Metro spends the money. It will be up to Foxx to determine that Metro is making progress implementing recommendations laid in the Federal Transit Administration’s recently released Safety Management Oversight Report. The secretary also must determine that the funding is spent on top of safety priorities that have been outlined by the National Transportation Safety Board and the FTA, including the purchase of new rail cars.
In addition, Metro must make quarterly reports to the committee regarding the progress it is making completing existing — and forthcoming — NTSB safety recommendations likely to come from the fatal smoke incident at L’Enfant Plaza station. One woman was killed and scores of others were injured in the Jan. 12 incident after their train became stranded in a tunnel and filled with smoke. The NTSB this week concluded two days of public hearings into the incident.
“This bill does not short change riders but keeps Metro management on a short lease with stringent conditions,” Mikulski said in a statement.
Those reports to the committee also must include updates on the outstanding recommendations from the 2009 Red Line accident at Fort Totten and the deadly 2006 accident at Dupont Circle that involved a WMATA employee.
It will be interesting to see if these conditions will be enough to win over skeptics in the Republican-dominated House, which included only $100 million in Metro funding in their version of the appropriations bill. Since 2008, Congress has annually appropriated $150 million for Metro’s capital improvement budget under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, known as PRIIA, which designated $1.5 billion for Metro over 10 years. Maryland, Virginia and the District matched the $150 million in money each year. But this year, House Republicans reduced that allocation — much to the dismay of the D.C.-area delegation, which vowed to fight the funding cut.
Republican members of Congress had proposed slashing Metro’s capital funding in the past, but this was the first time that such a reduction had moved forward.
Metro’s leadership has been under increased scrutiny following the fatal Jan. 12 incident, which exposed a series of safety gaps at the transit authority. Those gaps, including a lack of training for some of its key front-line personnel, were highlighted in a report released last week. Last year, Metro’s finances were the subject of intense scrutiny after another FTA report found significant problems with the way the agency managed federal grant money. Since then, the FTA has restricted Metro’s ability to draw from federal funds forcing the transit authority to take out a series of short-term loans.
If the Senate bill moves forward, it will be up to negotiators to work out a compromise. So while Metro may be closer to getting their full $150 million, it is not a done deal.