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Local Senators Want Highway Bill to Overhaul Metro

   

Mikulski had lunch with Obama Thursday ahead of his address to the Democratic retreat. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Mikulski is among the local senators pushing a Metro safety overhaul. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate delegations from the states adjoining the nation's Capitol have a proposal to improve the beleaguered Metro system.  

Specific to the D.C.-area system, the bill would change the way federally designated members of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority get their appointments. By moving the appointment power from the General Services Administration to the Department of Transportation, the four senators aim to increase the significance of safety experts.  

Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and Maryland Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin unveiled the measure Tuesday.  

"Our amendment will make Metro safer for its riders and workers. It strengthens and expands the U.S. Department of Transportation’s authority to establish safety standards beyond the physical railcars to include the day-to-day operations of Metro," Mikulski said in a statement. " I will not rest until Metro produces safety results.  That’s why this amendment also gives the U.S. Transportation Secretary the authority to name federal representatives the Metro Board. We need strong leadership on the Board to attract strong leadership at Metro." The long-term highway bill pending on the Senate floor may be a tough vehicle for Mikulski and her colleagues to amend, however. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been using a procedural tool known as filling the amendment tree to maintain control of the amendment process.  

In addition, the House is moving forward on a three-month stopgap bill, meaning enactment of a more substantial plan may be months away.  

While the surface transportation measure is commonly referred to as a highway bill, it does include railroad provisions, as well as a title from the Banking Committee governing urban transit systems.  

Aside from the Metro-specific language that would give the Transportation Department more of a stake in the system, the amendment would direct the Federal Transit Administration to establish a slew of safety standards separate from railcars themselves. This includes requirements for evacuation procedures, train-control systems, working radios and proper ventilation.  

All of those have been found lacking in the system that many from Maryland and Virginia use for their daily commutes.  

Last week, Rep. John L. Mica, a Florida Republican who serves as chairman of an Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee with transportation jurisdiction, threatened to strip Metro of its management authority and structure .  

Mica is a former chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  

And while the four Senate Democrats would do well short of what Mica suggested, they would certainly establish a process for bringing some new voices and rules.  

   

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