Congress has an example of what’s at stake for transit funding at its doorstep. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority faced a $50 million cut in its federal funding next fiscal year under a House proposal, though planned Wednesday floor action had the final number in flux.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx rode the Silver Line last month with Rep.Barbara Comstock, R-Va., to draw attention to funding needs.
Comstock said she and other lawmakers whose districts are served by WMATA are working to get the funding restored to $150 million, the fiscal 2015 level. “$150 million, it’s important to understand, is to design for new rail cars and for safety measures, and this is the way we’re going to make sure we update and improve the entire system,” she said. Comstock said federal funding has been at that level since 2009, and was part of “a regional commitment that was made with the federal government being part of that.”
House appropriators originally planned to cut $75 million from federal spending for WMATA, but agreed to an amendment from Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., that increased funding for the agency by $25 million, offset by cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Transit Administration. WMATA has struggled with an aging system and made headlines in January, when a mechanical problem left riders in a smoke-filled tunnel, resulting in the death of one passenger. The agency also faces an FTA review of its management of billions in federal grant money, according to reports.
Foxx said the $75 million cut House Republicans proposed earlier would disrupt the phase-in of more than 500 new rail cars to replace the nearly 40-year-old fleet. The National Transportation Safety Board recommended the new cars.
“There is no scenario in which we can cut funding and expect our transit systems to meet the needs of a growing country,” Foxx said. “From a safety perspective, this is a mistake.”
But House Appropriators indicated resolve over the proposed cut in a recent report that directed the agency to adopt changes recommended by the NTSB and the FTA after a review of the agency’s financial records. “The committee does not make this recommendation lightly,” it said, adding it “remains committed to assisting WMATA with its capital and safety needs.”