Panel approves DC Metro funding cut

Panel approves DC Metro funding cut
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A Republican-led House committee approved a $50 million funding cut for the Washington, D.C., Metrorail subway system over the objection of a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the capital region. 

The cut — part of a $55 billion funding bill for the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development — was approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. 

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. Under the spending bill that was approved Wednesday, however, the agency’s funding will be reduced to $100 million.

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The final amount of the reduction was a $25 million improvement over the GOP’s original proposal, which would have cut Metro’s funding in half to $75 million. 

Lawmakers from the D.C. area applauded an amendment that was approved Wednesday to boost the Metro funding slightly, but they promised to continue fighting for the full amount that is usually given to the agency. 

“I appreciate Congressman [Scott Rigell’s (R-Va.)] efforts in working with us to get more funding for Metro,” Rep. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockDems win Virginia state Senate special election Dem rep asks for asks for pay to be withheld during shutdown New Dem lawmaker hangs trans flag outside office on Capitol Hill MORE (R-Va.) said in a statement.  

“Since 2009, under a partnership created by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, Congress has continuously fulfilled its annual commitment of $150 million in funding toward WMATA,” Comstock continued. “While Congressman Rigell’s amendment brings us closer to the $150 million benchmark, I will continue to work with my colleagues as this process moves along to make sure Congress meets its full $150 million obligation.”

Democrats slammed the funding cut for Metro too, 

“Cutting Metro’s funding by 33 percent is irresponsible, short-sighted and an insult to my constituents," Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) said in a statement.

"At the very moment when we need to be upgrading and improving Metro, some in Congress want to cut cutting federal support for this vital resource," he continued. "It’s dangerous to cut corners and not fully fund infrastructure and I am fearful of the safety and economic consequences of continued under-investment. By making cuts today; we make it more likely that we will need to pay for even more costly repairs in the future."  

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 earlier this year.

On Jan. 12, 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 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.

Delaney said the funding cut that was approved by the House Appropriations Committee would jeopardize the agency’s ability to make needed safety improvements.

"Recent events should make it clear that taking away one of every three federal dollars away from Metro is an egregious error," he said. "Metro makes the Nation’s Capital work – serving federal agencies, tourists from around the country and local businesses and families. My constituents need Metro to be safe, efficient and reliable and these proposed cuts hurt those goals. I will continue to oppose these irresponsible cuts and work with my colleagues to restore Metro funding.”

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

Comstock said Wednesday the funding cut could also put those state payments in jeopardy. 

“If federal funding falls short of the $150 million, then the matching contributions would be at risk,” she said. “Metro needs these important funds for capital improvements that will address important safety concerns and help buy new Metro rail cars that will keep my constituents safe.”

-This story was updated with new information at 6:29 p.m.