Glenmont Metro Station. (Courtesy Photo)

ROCKVILLE – The proposed $150 million for Metro capital funding in FY 2020 is one step closer to approval by the U.S. Congress as the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations approved the respective budget bill.

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Appropriations Committee member, said the fact that the proposed bill includes money for Metro shows that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) shows how important public transit in the region is to the federal government. 

“Metro is central to the success of our region and the federal government – as countless federal workers, contractors, and members of the military ride it every single day,” said Van Hollen. “As we continue to push for a long-term funding agreement for WMATA, this investment underscores Congress bipartisan commitment to the system. We will keep fighting to ensure safe and dependable public transportation throughout the National Capital Region.” 

As in the past, the bill contains some requirements before Metro could receive the money. The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bills for the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate included a sentence calling for the transportation secretary to make sure that WMATA does not begin projects using federal funding without federal approval. The bills also included language requesting that WMATA not receive federal funding unless it can also show that it is continuing to work on its safety management plan. 

Approval from the Senate Appropriations Committee is the first major step. Next, under ideal circumstances, the bill would proceed to the Senate floor. It is not clear if the bill will make it to the floor before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.  

Meanwhile, Van Hollen and other delegation members in the metropolitan area continue to work on the long-term funding agreement mentioned in Van Hollen’s statement, which would obtain federal funding for WMATA’s capital budget during a 10-year period. Under the House and Senate bills of the Metro Accountability and Investment Act, Metro would receive $150 million a year for 10 years, as it has received for the past 10 years under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA), a program that times out at the end of the fiscal year. 

As with the PRIIA funding, the Metro Accountability and Investment Act would match the $150 million in capital dollars going to Metro from the funding jurisdictions, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia. 

According to a Sept. 12 staff memorandum to a WMATA committee, the renewal of federal capital funding is necessary for Metro to make safety-related repairs and maintenance, as ordered by agencies including the Federal Transit Administration, the state-level safety oversight agency, the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission and the National Transportation Safety Board. 

“WMATA’s highest federal legislative priority is reauthorization of a federal dedicated funding service,” the Sept. 12 memorandum said. 

Because Van Hollen is on the Appropriations Committee, it was his advocacy that was responsible that the money remained in the FY ’20 appropriations bill after review by the committee, his staff said. He is the only committee member who represents any of the jurisdictions served by WMATA.

Before receiving approval from the Appropriations Committee, the bill required approval from the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee. Subcommittee Chairman Susan Collins (R-Maine) said on Sept. 17 she was pleased that the bill received bipartisan support. 

“Thanks to bipartisan cooperation on this subcommittee, Senator (Jack) Reed (D-RI) and I have drafted a bill that accommodates the priorities of many Members,” Collins said. “We received input from 75 Senators with more than 950 requests, all of which we carefully evaluated.”

The U.S. House has passed 10 of its appropriations bills, including Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, to date. The House counterpart to the subcommittee approved its budget bill, including the funding for WMATA, in May. 

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who chairs the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, said on May 23 she was pleased the bill passed through the subcommittee. 

“WMATA and its workers have made such significant progress in 10 years of PRIIA (Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act) funding that we were able to convince appropriators to continue to provide needed funding,” Norton wrote in a statement. “This new funding will enable WMATA not only to fix and upgrade the core system but importantly, to do preventative maintenance that had long been neglected. Federal funding for WMATA is important for the federal government because 40% of federal employees in D.C. use the system to reach federal offices.” 

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