GOP lawmaker to ride DC Metro in protest over funding cut

Anne Wernikoff

Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) is planning to ride the Washington, D.C., Metrorail system’s new Silver Line with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to protest a proposed cut in federal funding for the capital area transit agency. 

Comstock and Foxx are scheduled to ride the new line on Friday morning with members of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Board of Directors to press lawmakers to restore funding for the agency that was cut in half in a proposed 2016 budget, which was released recently by Republican lawmakers, Transportation Department officials said Thursday. 

The agency said the ride-along participants “will discuss the need for additional investment in public transportation to ensure safe and reliable service for thousands of Metrorail riders who use the system each day, and to accommodate the region’s growing population.” 

{mosads}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 last week reduces the funding to $75 million. 

Comstock and other D.C.-area lawmakers have protested the funding cut, saying the agency needs to be fully funded to serve the nation’s capitol, which is home to many federal workers. 

“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 National Capital Regional Congressional delegation said in a joint statement. “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 when underground train cars filled with smoke.

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 Metro.

The Silver Line, which first opened last year, is one of the largest public transportation projects under construction in the United States. The first phase of the line, which runs from Reston, Va., through downtown Washington, D.C., was built in part with $900 million from the federal government. 

The second phase of the line, which is intended to connect the D.C. Metro system to Dulles International Airport, is being financed in part with $1.9 billion in federal loans. 

The first phase of the Silver Line, which includes 11.5 miles of tracks through northern Virginia’s Tysons Corner, brought Metro about halfway to Dulles Airport.

Tags Anthony Foxx Barbara Comstock Silver Line United States Department of Transportation Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

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