Next stop: Metro funding
Metro's $300 million in dedicated annual funding is moving quickly toward becoming a reality. Last week, both houses of Congress approved the WMATA Compact Amendments, and according to Councilmember Jim Graham, DC has included its $50 million contribution in the revised budget they approved on Friday. The House and Senate's transportation appropriations bills both contain funding for Metro, meaning the conference committee in September shouldn't affect this, and the Obama administration is expected to approve the bills.
Last year, Congress authorized $150 million a year for ten years for Metro, provided DC, Maryland, and Virginia each match it with $50 million each. The three jurisdictions also had to amend the WMATA Compact to add federal voting representatives and some other changes. They made the change, but the Obama Administration's original budget did not include the money. Immediately after last month's Red Line crash, however, Maryland and Virginia Congressional representatives introduced measures to add the funding.
Assuming the budget passes with the $150 million, Maryland and Virginia will have to each find $50 million in their already-tight budgets to match. And then we'll need to lobby Congress and the jurisdictions to maintain that funding into future years.
Metro needs this funding to maintain even our current levels of service. The system is aging, and Metro needs to replace many of its rail cars. While Metro managed to stave off service cuts during the last budget cycle, we've felt the effects of their staff cuts. After the Red Line crash, in particular, many riders have complained of poor communication. Some readers wrote in asking why Metro doesn't deploy platform conductors to help move people down the platform now that trains are pulling all the way to the ends of platforms. One part of the answer: there aren't enough staff left to do that. Even $300 million a year won't keep up with all of Metro's maintenance needs, but it's a big start.
Senator Barbara Mikulski (MD) also added a provision to the Senate bill asking USDOT to "submit legislative recommendations to Congress" on ways to increase their "role in regulating the safety of transit agencies operating heavy rail on fixed guideway." Currently, the FTA cannot regulate transit agencies' safety procedures. Some oversight is appropriate, as long as the FTA doesn't go overboard and require so many safeguards that they impede transit systems' performance. Metro is still many times safer than driving; it can be safer, but if, in our zeal to make it as safe as possible, we make it less useful, more people will just drive, cutting down total safety and hurting transit systems.
Meanwhile, advocates are reporting that Governor O'Malley is expected to announce tomorrow morning the State of Maryland's support for a light rail Purple Line. Fresh from securing money for Metro, the region's Congresspeople can next start pushing for the federal portion of funding for this project. Or, better yet, they should support a better allocation scheme that ends the double standard whereby transit projects must prove their value while highway projects don't, and which gives a higher percentage of federal funding to highway projects than transit projects.
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