DC Metro funding ‘in real jeopardy’

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) is warning leaders of Washington, D.C.’s Metrorail subway system that their agency’s federal funding “is in real jeopardy” after a recent report showing mismanagement of prior grant awards.

The Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration said in an audit that was released last month that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) had violated contracting rules for projects involving federal money.

The criticism comes as the Washington Metro system is preparing to open a new line in northern Virginia this summer. The new Silver Line was built in part with $900 million from the federal government.

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The capital area transit agency has also been cleared to apply for another approximately $2 billion in loans for the second phase of the Silver Line, which will connect Dulles International Airport with the Washington Metro system.

The Washington Metro system has received federal subsidies - as well as money from state and local governments in D.C., Maryland and Virginia - since it was first constructed in the 1970s.

Mikulski said in a letter to Metro GM Richard Sarles that the federal government could pull the plug on the funding if the agency does not address the FTA’s concerns.

“I am very disappointed and troubled to learn about the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) audit findings,” the Maryland senator said. “For the last five years, the National Capital Region Congressional Delegation has met its federal obligation to Metro by providing $150 million annually as authorized by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (Public Law 110-432). We worked very hard to secure and protect this funding through the legislative process.”

Mikulski said that future funding from Congress for Metro was hardly guaranteed, especially if the agency continues to violate federal contracting rules.   

“You need to know that future dedicated funding for Metro is in real jeopardy,” she wrote.  “Federal funding is stringent. American taxpayers expect value and accountability for every dollar. And so do I. I will not tolerate Metro's mismanagement of taxpayer dollars.”

Tom Downs, who is the chairman of the WMATA Board of Directors, said in a statement that was provided to The Hill that Metro is taking the criticism from Mikulski and the FTA seriously.

“We appreciate the senator’s leadership on Metro funding and are committed to quickly and fully addressing the concerns raised by the FTA draft report," Downs said. "We will provide a comprehensive report to the senator this week.”

This story was updated with new information on April 9 at 7:38 a.m.