Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said he will soon meet with newly-confirmed Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to discuss the future of Metro and the federal government’s role in helping get the region’s transit system back on track.
Wiedefeld said the meeting has not been scheduled, but he wants to talk “as soon as she is available.”
His comments Thursday came on the same day as the deadline set by former Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx for Maryland, D.C. and Virginia to establish a Metro safety oversight commission. Regional leaders had long ago informed Foxx that they would not meet the deadline.
Wiedefeld said he is confident that enough progress has been made that the oversight commission will be up-and-running this year.
“I believe they’re going to. I’ve met with Richmond and Annapolis, and they’re all moving to get it done,” he said.
But it’s unclear whether Chao plans to follow through on threats made by Foxx. He warned that missing the deadline could cause DOT to withhold millions of dollars in transit funding from the region.
Since Chao was first nominated to the post in November, regional leaders have wondered how much interest she has in Washington’s beleaguered transit system — and whether she intends for DOT to stay as involved as Foxx’s staff in Metro’s operational and safety problems.
On the one hand, President Trump campaigned on a platform of curbing the size and reach of the federal government. That mission that will surely be passed down to his cabinet members.
On the other, Chao has worked in Washington for a long time. She served as labor secretary under George W. Bush, and was also a deputy secretary at the Department of Transportation. And she knows more than many, the number of people in the federal government, and in the region, who rely on Metro to get to their jobs every day.
Tackling Metro’s problems is “something she’d definitely be interested in doing,” former transportation secretary Samuel Skinner, who recruited Chao to DOT, said in November.
Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans said he has not spoken to Chao or anyone at DOT under the new administration, but he remains hopeful that they will stay involved in Metro’s problems and potentially interested in providing increased funding for the system’s operations.
“I will continue to advocate to the federal government and the local jurisdictions the importance of funding Metro,” Evans said, “and we will continue to do our job at Metro to show that we are making progress and spending our money wisely and making some very difficult decisions.”