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Tim Kaine says he’s ‘optimistic’ on funding from Congress for Metro

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) may not have been around the region much in the past few months, but he still knows a little something about what it’s been like for his constituents suffering through SafeTrack since the summer.

“Northern Virginians are the savviest commuters on the planet,” Kaine said, sitting near the back of a bus zooming west on Interstate 66. When faced with scheduled disruptions, like the seven Metro maintenance “surges” that have struck Virginia since June, Kaine said commuters are expert at identifying alternate routes and nimbly swapping one transportation mode for another.

“They’ll always figure out their hack,” Kaine said.

Just over a month after returning home after his unsuccessful vice-presidential run alongside Hillary Clinton, Kaine set his sights Tuesday morning on a slightly more humdrum issue: the Washington Metro system, and a bus tour of the Silver Line extension to Dulles International Airport.

Arriving at Tysons Corner station in jeans, boots and a blazer, Kaine met with Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld and chatted about the state of the transit system before heading out on a Silver Line train to the end of the line.

“Your SafeTrack stuff has been very well received,” Kaine told Wiedefeld.

Infrastructure investment has been consistently raised as a potential early priority for President-elect Donald Trump’s administration, and Kaine said there’s reason to be hopeful that those plans may result in increased capital or operating funding for Metro.

But to make that possible, Kaine said, Metro has to demonstrate tangible improvements in safety and reliability.

“The better and better management does, and the better they address the safety issues to give people a feeling of confidence, the more likely Congress is to do the right thing,” Kaine said. “If Metro management keeps improving on the safety side, then those of us in Congress will keep making the case to all of our colleagues all over the country.”

Of course, many other Democratic lawmakers don’t share that confidence — especially given that the $1 trillion infrastructure plan outlined by Trump’s transition team appears to focus exclusively on roads and bridges.

But Kaine said he is “optimistic that Congress will make the right investment,” citing the success that Virginia achieved in securing funding for the Silver Line under the Republican administration of President George W. Bush. Kaine recounted how the Federal Transit Administration initially turned down the application for Silver Line funding; ultimately, Kaine went to then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and worked with her on identifying a solution.

“She really was a champion for the Silver Line,” Kaine said.

But Kaine did acknowledge one potential obstacle facing Metro in its quest for a larger slice of federal funding: the retirement of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.).

“I’m going to miss Barbara for a lot of reasons. She was a great bulldog toward Metro, but also a bulldog for Metro, in a wonderful way,” Kaine said. “All of us will have to pick up a little bit because of her retirement.”