Metro would not receive more than $4 million in federal funding if U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao makes good on a threat by her predecessor to cut federal transit funding if as expected the District, Maryland and Virginia fail to meet a Thursday deadline for creation of a new safety oversight agency.
While the punishment would be costly for all three jurisdictions, Metro, which already is facing a significant budget shortfall, would be hurt because it will not receive at least $4 million in federal transit funding earmarked for the system. Officials with the Federal Transit Administration say that Metro, as well as D.C., Maryland and Virginia, will get the the money eventually, but only when federal officials sign off on the new safety body.
But state transportation officials say that even a temporary loss of money can be costly.
“As far as we’re concerned, it’s still a funding gap for us,” said Jennifer Mitchell, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. “We have to make that up.”
And whether jurisdictions will be able too is not certain.
In Virginia, Mitchell said the state would be delayed from receiving a total of $6.2 million, more than half of which would come from dollars directed to projects in Northern Virginia. The bulk of that money, $3.4 million, is money allocated directly to Metro by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission. The Virginia Railway Express, the area’s commuter rail service, would be delayed from receiving $380,672. Transportation projects in other parts of the state would be affected as well, Mitchell said.
Maryland transportation officials calculate the state would temporarily forgo $4.8 million in fiscal year 2017, There too, the impact would be felt statewide. The Baltimore region, including the city of Baltimore would not receive nearly $3.3 million; Montgomery and Prince George’s counties would not receive $725,984. The Aberdeen-Bel Air area, north of Baltimore would be short $160,893. Other counties throughout the state from Western Maryland to Southern Maryland to the Eastern Shore would not receive $619,893 in federal transit dollars until the safety body is certified.
In D.C., the penalty would mean a temporary loss of $795,000 in funding earmarked for Metro. District transportation officials had originally said FTA would withhold $7 million in Metro funding, but on Wednesday, corrected that figure.
In August, the Maryland and Virginia told former secretary Anthony Foxx that they would not meet the deadline, but they hoped to show they were making enough progress to stave off any penalty.
A federal surface transportation bill passed by Congress in 2015 granted the transportation secretary authority to withhold 5 percent of transit-related capital funding to a state or a group of jurisdictions if their regional safety oversight agency is deemed inadequate.
A spokeswoman said Chao, who was recently confirmed, has not made a decision.
The D.C. Council approved a bill creating the Metro Safety Commission in December. But because of the legislative calendars in Maryland and Virginia, officials in those two states said they were unlikely to make the deadline and appealed to Foxx to reconsider the deadline.
All three jurisdictions must approve identical legislation and officials in Maryland and Virginia said both state legislatures are close to passing their measures. Late last week, Virginia lawmakers gave a critical boost to a bill to create the new safety oversight body. Maryland legislators have scheduled a hearing on their bill Thursday.