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GOP spending bill cuts DC Metro funding in half

GOP spending bill cuts DC Metro funding in half
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Lawmakers who represent House districts in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area are criticizing a Republican spending bill for cutting federal funding for the capital's Metro as the subway system deals with safety issues.

The federal government typically provides about $150 million annually to the subway system in and around the nation’s capitol, the second busiest transit network in the U.S. 

A $55 billion funding bill for the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development that was unveiled by the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday reduces the funding to $75 million. 

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Lawmakers who represent parts of Metro’s service area in D.C., Maryland and Virginia slammed the cut in a joint statement on Wednesday.  

“Providing anything less than the federal commitment of $150 million would jeopardize rider safety and the successful partnership with Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia to fund the purchase of new rail cars and vital safety improvements throughout the system in response to [National Transportation Safety Board] and [Federal Transit Administration] recommendations,” the lawmakers said. “The proposed reduction would only exacerbate the operations and safety issues that our delegation has been working with Metro to resolve.” 

The GOP measure provides $55.3 billion in funding the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, but would halve the federal government’s contribution to Metro, which carries about 829,000 passengers on an average weekday, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

The federal money is typically used by Metro for capital construction projects and not operations, but officials say it is critical to the agency's ability to function properly. 

The funding cut comes at a time when Metro has been struggling to meet federal mandates related to a fatal incident that occurred in January when a Yellow Line train that was heading toward Northern Virginia had its progress halted by an electrical issue, killing one passenger and trapping hundreds of others underground in smoke-filled cars.

The Jan. 12 incident resulted in Metro’s first passenger fatality since a high-profile crash on the agency's Red Line in 2009 that killed nine people and led to widespread changes at the capital-area transit agency.

The federal funding for Metro is typically matched by about $50 million each from the governments of D.C., Maryland and Virginia. 

Lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee said the Transportation and Housing measure contains as much funding for the agencies as Congress can spare right now. 

“This bill invests in critical infrastructure programs that will keep our people and our businesses moving, and that will make our roads, rails, and airways safe for all. And to provide needed shelter to those most vulnerable — including low-income families and seniors — the bill provides responsible levels of funding for core housing programs,” House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said in a statement. “These are tight-budget times, and this legislation makes the most out of each and every transportation and housing dollar.”

Metro spokeswoman Morgan Dye said the agency counts on receiving full federal funding.

"Every dollar of this funding is crucial for the safety and reliability improvements of Metro," she said in a statement. "While we are working with our entire delegation to restore the full $150 million annual funding committed to Metro in 2008, this subcommittee mark-up is evidence that our Congressional Delegation has been fighting hard for the investments that Metro riders and this region need."

The D.C. area congressional delegation said Wednesday that Metro should be fully funded despite the austere budgetary environment because it is important to the federal government’s ability to function. 

“It would be shortsighted for Congress to threaten to unravel this partnership given the federal government’s unique relationship with and responsibility to Metro,” the lawmakers said. “Nearly 40 percent of rush-hour riders are federal employees, and half of all Metro stations are located on federal property. Metro is also a critical component of the National Capital Region’s emergency response system.

“We respectfully urge our colleagues on the Appropriations Committee, as they prepare for the full Committee markup, to maintain our commitment to our state and local funding partners, and work with us to ensure robust oversight of Metro’s ongoing efforts to address financial and safety concerns identified by the FTA and NTSB,” the lawmakers concluded. 

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