The Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure bill would include a new source of stable funding for the Washington area’s Metro system and a provision that could help revive the Red Line light-rail project in Baltimore.
The measure also includes $150 million in annual capital and maintenance funds for Metro, paired with a requirement that the agency reform its internal watchdog and take other steps to improve oversight.
The funding would help the transit agency “make the needed safety improvements that have been plaguing Metro for a number of years,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), a leader of the bipartisan infrastructure effort. “We can also redouble our efforts to build out additional Metro stations in Northern Virginia, including at Potomac Yard.”
In Baltimore, the long-planned $2.9 billion Red Line, which was to run east-to-west and stitch together communities across the city, was canceled in 2015 by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who called it a “wasteful boondoggle.” But its advocates — including Maryland Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D) and Ben Cardin (D) — have sought to relaunch the effort.
The bill “would ensure consideration” of projects that had previously been supported by the Federal Transit Administration, such as the Red Line, the senators said in a statement.
The bill’s provision on “project reentry” says the U.S. transportation secretary “shall provide full and fair consideration to projects that seek an updated rating after a period of inactivity.”
Cardin “would not have sought this language if he did not think there was an opportunity in the future to renew the project,” spokeswoman Sue Walitsky said. “It may need to wait for a future gubernatorial administration, but the federal Team Maryland will be at the ready.”
Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci said Monday that although the governor applauds the broader package, the Red Line still doesn’t make sense.
“The governor promised that, if elected, he would discontinue the Red Line, and he has kept his word,” Ricci said in an email.
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The Washington-based Eno Center for Transportation said more than $567 billion of the $1 trillion total would come through the U.S. Department of Transportation. Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Monday said the bill marks a historic opportunity.
Transit spending in the bill would total nearly $107 billion over five years, $42 billion more than existing funding, according to Eno senior fellow Jeff Davis.
Highway and bridge funding over that period would top $350 billion, Davis said. That’s about $115 billion more than would be spent under current baseline, he said.
The bill does not require that states first repair ailing roadways, prompting concerns that the funds will spur highway expansions at the expense of the environment. A separate House transportation bill had a greater focus on climate change and did include a “fix-it-first” requirement.
Biden’s initial infrastructure proposal sought a transformational investment in transit, although that was partially rolled back in the interest of reaching a bipartisan deal. Some in the House have vowed to fight the Senate bill over such priorities.
For the Washington region, the bill includes funding for priorities, from Amtrak to airport improvements.
Some of the bill’s nationwide total of $25 billion for airports could benefit Washington Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). Those airports alone have a $1 billion need for “runway rehabilitation, gate expansion, concourse replacement, and electrification to reduce carbon emissions,” he said in statement.
The Maryland and Virginia congressional delegations supported the Metro funding in the bill. It would provide $150 million in capital and preventive maintenance grants for fiscal years 2022 through 2030.
The bill would reauthorize the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, which provided Metro with a decade’s worth of annual federal funding before it expired in 2018 and was not renewed. The provision would give Metro stability while also increasing the budget of the transit agency’s Office of the Inspector General, a clause sought by Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) to boost accountability and public confidence.
The office will receive $5 million a year from the annual funding, according to congressional members. Another $5 million match will come from local funding sources.
Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly said the transit agency was grateful for the local delegation’s support, which she said “is critical to keeping Metro safe and reliable.” Ly said Metro also shares Congress’s interest in “an effective and autonomous” Office of the Inspector General.
In Baltimore, a spokesman said Mayor Brandon Scott (D) considered Hogan’s cancellation of the Red Line “a regrettable missed opportunity,” but said he is encouraged by provisions in the bill.
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Joe McAndrew, vice president for regional mobility and infrastructure for the Greater Washington Partnership, said it’s not clear that the Red Line could be revived, and the Senate provision, if passed, would be one of many steps.
“Local elected officials, the state, civic leaders and the residents of Baltimore need to come back to the table [to decide] if the Red Line is ultimately going to be the project that they choose to move forward, or an alternative like a bus rapid transit solution, or other options,” McAndrew said.
In 2017, the Department of Transportation closed a complaint alleging that Maryland officials discriminated against African Americans when they canceled the Red Line. The complaints were filed in late 2015 by two Baltimore residents and civil rights groups, alleging the cancellation was part of a history of racial discrimination in state transportation funding decisions.
Ajmel Quereshi, senior counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which backed the complaint, said he was heartened by Monday’s announcement.
“Now more than ever, it remains incredibly important for the state to recommit to Baltimore, and reinvest the more than $1 billion in capital funds that the state had promised Baltimore almost a generation ago,” Quereshi said.
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