24 hours until McDonnell delays Silver Line, safer railcars
If Governor Bob McDonnell does not relent on his withholding of Virginia's capital match within 24 hours, new 7000-series railcars for the Silver Line and to replace dangerous 1000-series cars will be delayed.
At today's WMATA Board meeting, General Manager Sarles broke with his usual very controlled and even demeanor and let some anger creep into his voice. He explained that WMATA needs to give a "Notice to Proceed" to Kawasaki by July 5 to get the cars in time for the opening of the Silver Line. That requires a "preapproval authority" from the FTA verifying that the funds are there, and that is being held up because of the uncertainty concerning Virginia's payments.
Virginia has to pay by July 1, but Sarles explained that the whole order will be postponed fairly significantly unless McDonnell at least reaffirms to FTA his commitment to pay the funds as promised.
Update: I got clarification on the issue of what delay we're talking about. WMATA has to give Kawasaki the go-ahead by July 5th under their contract. If they don't, Kawasaki could back out or renegotiate. Maybe they'd just give WMATA an extension, but maybe they wouldn't or WMATA would have to pay more money. It's a risk we shouldn't have to take.
Some members pointed out that there's definite debate about whether McDonnell is even legally allowed to withhold this money. As a condition of the federal appropriation, DC, Maryland, and Virginia had to certify that the funding from a "dedicated source" was set aside. McDonnell may be on shaky ground now threatening to take it away after telling Congress the money was there.
As expected, the Board also passed its budget including the very large fare hike that has been discussed previously. The only change was to amend the budget to reduce the cost of SmarTrip cards from $5 to $2.50. The differential between SmarTrip and cash will increase on bus and a new differential is being added on rail, making SmarTrips even more important. However, some lower income riders have a harder time affording the SmarTrip cards.
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