Dems push for more Metro funding amid safety concerns
A group of Senate Democrats is pressing appropriators to fully fund the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) at authorized levels as the beleaguered agency scrambles to address critical safety issues.
Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.), in a letter to the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, urged lawmakers to provide $150 million to WMATA in fiscal 2017. The money would only be used for capital improvements and not for operating expenses, they pointed out.
The funding level is in line with what appropriators gave the transit agency in recent years, as well as what President Obama requested in his fiscal 2017 budget.
The trio of lawmakers argued that the efficiency of Washington’s Metrorail system — the second busiest subway in the nation — has a direct impact on the operations of the federal government. They said that it is critical not to undermine Metro as it follows through with planned maintenance and much-needed repairs.
“Metro is at a critical juncture and is making progress in bringing this aging and historically underfunded system into a state-of-good-repair and improving safety throughout the system,” they wrote. “This annual appropriation is critical to advancing this progress.”
But the request is certain to receive pushback, with the transit agency under fire for serious safety problems that have led to rail closures, track fires and even a fatality.
Earlier this month, officials closed the entire transit system for over 24 hours following a cable fire in a tunnel near the McPherson Square station to conduct emergency inspections. The incident evoked memories of a January 2015 event in which a passenger died after smoke from a tunnel fire near L’Enfant Plaza filled a stopped train.
But even though some lawmakers argue that underfunding Metro has helped contribute to its safety problems, others are demanding greater scrutiny of how federal dollars are spent and managed at the agency.
The Federal Transit Administration assumed oversight of Metro last fall and will maintain oversight until a new safety body is established.