The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

D.C., Maryland and Virginia get temporary reprieve from deadline to create Metro safety agency

View of a passenger using one of the escalators at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station in Washington. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

The District, Maryland and Virginia have been given a reprieve from the temporary loss of millions in federal funding for transportation projects, including more than $4 million in funding earmarked for Metro  —  a penalty for missing a deadline to set up an independent agency to oversee safety at Metro.

On Thursday evening, a spokeswoman with the Federal Transit Administration emailed a statement saying the matter is still under consideration.

“The State of Maryland, Commonwealth of Virginia, and District of Columbia have not met the February 9, 2017 deadline to establish a federally-compliant, FTA-certified State Safety Oversight Program for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Metrorail,” read the statement. “As of today, FTA is authorized by statute to withhold up to 5 percent of Urbanized Area formula funds from the three jurisdictions. However, no decision has been made. The matter is currently under consideration. The safety of [Metro’s] riders, operators and workers requires that the jurisdictions complete their work on a federally-compliant [state safety agency] without further delay.”

Federal funding at risk if D.C., Md., Va., miss deadline to set up Metro safety body

The spokeswoman declined to say when she expects a decision will be made.

Officials in Maryland and Virginia made it clear several months ago that they would not meet the Feb. 9 deadline set last year by then-Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Foxx, frustrated with the jurisdictions’ inability to move quickly to set up an independent safety agency, imposed the deadline last February in hopes of prodding officials into action. The new safety agency is designed to replace a previous oversight body, the Tri-State Oversight Committee, which was largely viewed as a failure.

D.C. officials approved a bill to create the new safety agency in December, but because of their legislative calendars, Maryland and Virginia officials were not able to act on the matter until this year.

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. D.C., Maryland and Virginia would eventually receive the funding, but not until the FTA signed off on the safety agency. But officials in all three jurisdictions say it would be difficult to make up the shortfall, even if it is temporary.

In Virginia, officials said the delay would cost the state $6.2 million in funding, 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.

Metro GM Paul Wiedefeld to meet with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao

Maryland transportation officials calculated 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.