GOP lawmaker rails against DC Metro funding cut

GOP lawmaker rails against DC Metro funding cut
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Rep. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockGun debate raises stakes in battle for Virginia legislature Progressives face steep odds in ousting incumbent Democrats K Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers MORE (R-Va.) railed against a proposed cut in federal funding for the Washington, D.C., Metrorail system after riding the agency’s new Silver Line with Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxBig Dem names show little interest in Senate Lyft sues New York over new driver minimum pay law Lyft confidentially files for IPO MORE on Friday. 

The federal government typically provides about $150 million annually to the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA), 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 would reduce the funding to $75 million. 

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Comstock, who represents a swing district, said the funding cut would make Metro trains less safe for passengers in her Northern Virginia district.

“This $150 million, it’s important to understand, is designed for new rail cars and for safety measures,” she said. “This is the way we’re going to make sure we update and improve the entire system.” 

In pushing for the Metro money, Comstock is breaking ranks with the Republican caucus to join with Democrats, mostly from the Washington suburbs, who are calling for the agency's funding to be restored. 

She said Friday the D.C.-area delegation is “very united in making sure we have the money for Metro restored."

“We initially wrote that letter saying that wanted to continue to have that $150 million which we’ve had since 2009,” she said. “Our localities can then contribute another $50 million.” 

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.

Metro typically uses the federal money for capital construction projects and not operations, but officials say it is critical to the agency's ability to function properly. The funding is usually matched by contributions from the governments of D.C., Maryland and Virginia. 

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.

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

Democrats targeting Comstock’s seat in 2016 accused her of being a recent convert to the transit funding cause. 

“Today, northern Virginia Congresswoman Barbara Comstock is riding the Silver Line and calling for more federal funding for the WMATA public transportation system,” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in a flier that was distributed to reporters after Comstock spoke at Metro’s Wiehle-Reston East station. 

“But don’t let her take you for a ride with this charade: Comstock has voted repeatedly against transportation funding while she was in the Virginia House of Delegates,” the flier continued. 

Foxx stayed largely above the political fray, but he said he agreed with Comstock that Congress should not cut Metro’s funding. 

“Cutting funding for WMATA, as has been proposed, would also disrupt the phasing in of 500 new rail cars that are on the books to come on line,” he said. 

“From a safety standpoint, this is a mistake,” Foxx continued. “These cars have been to higher standards of crash worthiness and fire safety. They’ll replace all the cars that have been in service for nearly 40 years, as the NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] has recommended. Any rail car that’s as old as me probably needs to get replaced.” 

Foxx said the funding cut would make it more difficult for Metro to make improvements that are being recommended by federal regulators. 

“The problems aren’t going to get any better with slashing the funding,” he said. “From our operational standpoint, there are still challenges within WMATA, and they are challenges that are surmountable. But every time the rug gets pulled out, it makes it even harder to actually get onto those challenges.”