Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao decided in February to temporary withhold millions of dollars in funding to the District, Maryland and Virginia, a punitive measure aimed at expediting progress on creating a safety commission to oversee Metro. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Members of Congress are ramping up their calls for Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to walk back the punitive measures she took against the District, Maryland and Virginia earlier this year, when she withheld federal grant money to hasten the creation of a new safety commission that would oversee the Washington Metro.

Their message: We want our money back.

Chao took action against the region in February, announcing that the Federal Transit Administration would temporarily withhold 5 percent of funding to the DMV because lawmakers had failed to enact a law officially approving a new agency to oversee safety at Metro.

Up until several years ago, Metro safety was regulated by the Tri-State Oversight Committee, a local body that was deemed ineffectual by federal officials. Then, in October 2015, safety oversight responsibilities were handed over to the Federal Transit Administration, a move that was intended as a short-term solution until regional leaders launched a new, beefed-up agency that could perform inspections at Metro and move swiftly to uncover critical safety issues.

Chao and her predecessor, Anthony Foxx, have been eager to get FTA staff off the job of monitoring day-to-day safety issues at Metro and put it back in the hands of the three jurisdictions. But when the Feb. 10 deadline came and went, and a Metro safety commission was still not in existence, Chao moved quickly to begin withholding the funding for public transportation in the region.

Once a new Metro safety commission was up and running, she said, the three jurisdictions would have their funding returned.

Since that time, both the Virginia and Maryland legislatures have passed laws establishing a Metro safety commission. D.C.’s version of the law was approved in December. The U.S. Senate has also given its thumbs up, and an identical bill has been approved by the House Judiciary Committee and awaits passage from the full House of Representatives.

Regional leaders have also delivered a “draft certification plan” to FTA to review, and are awaiting feedback from the federal agency.

Now, in two letters to Chao delivered on Friday, members of Congress are saying: We’ve made plenty of progress. Time to give us our money back.

“The decision to withhold the funds … was crude, punitive, and arbitrary, and the process that led to the decision was deeply flawed,” wrote 11 Democratic members of Congress, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), in a letter to Chao.

They cited the fact that FTA did not release guidelines on the certification process for the safety commission until after the region had missed its deadline for creating the commission. And they demanded that FTA stop withholding the money that helps pay for operations at Metro and several other smaller transit agencies throughout Maryland and Virginia.

“We will not accept further harm inflicted on our region at a time when safety and maintenance investments are so desperately needed by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and our region’s other transit systems,” the lawmakers wrote.

A second letter sent to Chao on Friday — signed by Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), Kaine, Sen. Mark R. Warner, and three other members of Congress — struck a more measured tone.

“Given the concerns we have raised in this letter regarding FTA’s shortsighted approach to this matter, and in light of the demonstrated progress which has been made,” the Comstock group wrote in their letter, “we respectfully request that your office work with the FTA to explore a compromise in which part of these withheld funds can be released as a show of good faith, as the jurisdictions continue their work to construct a stable [state safety oversight agency].”

Earlier this week, when asked about progress on the Metro safety commission, an FTA spokesperson reiterated a statement made by the agency in February:

“The funds will be withheld until the jurisdictions pass identical legislation and meet related requirements in order for FTA to certify a new State Safety Oversight Program for WMATA Metrorail. … These funds can be restored once the jurisdictions establish a federally-compliant, FTA-certified SSOP.”