As WMATA Struggles Amid COVID-19 Crisis, Va. & Md. Senators Announce Bill to Renew Federal Funding For Next Ten Years
~ Bill would also strengthen oversight of WMATA and bring about critical safety reforms ~
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) along with Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD) announced a bill to renew the federal funding commitment to Metro for the next ten years – legislation that comes at a critical time for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which continues to provide critical service to essential frontline and federal workers despite the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Last year, I was proud to help negotiate the December COVID-19 relief bill that provided critical emergency relief funding to help WMATA stay afloat and avoid drastic service and staffing cuts,” said Sen. Warner, a member of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, which has oversight over our nation’s urban transit systems. “With this legislation, we have the opportunity to ensure that WMATA can continue to support our federal workforce in the long term, as well as provide reliable and timely service for individuals – including many essential workers – commuting in and out of Virginia, DC, and Maryland.”
“It’s critical Congress provide this necessary funding to help people, especially frontline workers, get around the DMV amid the pandemic,” Sen. Kaine said. “I urge our colleagues to support this vital legislation that will help prevent significant cuts, and allow individuals to rely on safe and efficient travel.”
“Maintaining a safe and reliable public transit system for the seat of the federal government is a clear national priority. We recognized 10 years ago - as we do now - that providing dedicated funding for WMATA will help keep Metro on track for everyday use and during national and regional emergencies. Metro and its workers have been on the front lines as essential workers providing vital service to others who also are keeping our communities, our health system and our economy running during this challenging time,” said Sen. Cardin, Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee. “Our bill helps put Metro on solid footing into the future as our region emerges from the COVID-10 pandemic.”
“WMATA provides a vital network that keeps our region connected and moving — getting federal employees to their jobs, essential workers to the front lines of the fight against the pandemic, and getting area residents and visitors where they need to go,” said Sen. Van Hollen. “As we continue to weather the COVID-19 storm, this bill helps WMATA not only meet the current needs in this crisis, but also makes the long-term improvements necessary to enhance safety, efficiency, and reliability for riders for years to come.”
Recognizing that the Metro system is integral to the functioning of the federal government, for the past decade, Congress has provided Metro with $150 million annually for capital expenses, with Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia each providing $50 million in matching funds. The Metro Safety, Accountability and Investment Act of 2021 will ensure that WMATA can continue to count on this full federal funding for an additional ten years by reauthorizing funding levels from the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 through fiscal year 2030, at an annual level of $150 million, matched by funding from Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Additionally, this legislation would help bring about a series of key safety, oversight, and governance reforms at WMATA by including an additional $50 million per year in federal funding that is not subject to local match, bringing the annual federal commitment to Metro to $200 million. In order to access the additional $50 million, WMATA will be required to: further empower Metro’s Inspector General; establish task forces on track safety and bus safety; implement policy and procedures to improve WMATA’s capital planning process; improve the transit asset management planning process; continue to reinforce restrictions on the activities of alternate WMATA Board members to provide more effective Board management and oversight; and prioritize the implementation of new cyber security protections and the integration of wireless services and emergency communications networks.
The bill also restricts WMATA from using federal funds on a contract for rolling stock from any country that meets certain criteria related to illegal subsidies for state-owned enterprises. Sens. Warner, Kaine, Cardin and Van Hollen have previously raised concerns regarding the possibility of Metro awarding a contract to build its newest 8000-series rail cars to a Chinese manufacturing company.
This legislation has the support of a number of groups and organizations, including 2030 Group, Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, Arlington Chamber of Commerce, Coalition for Smarter Growth, Connected DMV, DC Sustainable Transportation, Federal City Council, Georgetown Business Improvement District, Greater Washington Board of Trade, Greater Washington Partnership, Loudoun Chamber, MetroNow Coalition, Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, Prince George's Chamber of Commerce, Tysons Partnership, and Virginia Transit Association.
“This bill once again demonstrates our Congressional delegation’s leadership supporting critically needed funding to maintain a safe and reliable transportation system, and it will be critical to the region’s recovery for years to come,” said Paul J. Wiedefeld, Metro General Manager and CEO. “We welcome provisions that will increase transparency and ensure taxpayer funds are well-spent to continue to earn the public’s confidence. We thank the authors of this bill for understanding the importance of Metro to the entire region.”
“The Metro system is one of the nation’s great public assets that millions of people rely on every year – from federal workers to visitors from around the world,” said Paul C. Smedberg, WMATA Board of Directors Chair. “We’re deeply thankful for the work of our region’s Congressional delegation to establish a long-term source of funding so we can continue to serve the public and bolster the independent oversight that is critical to maintaining trust with our customers.”
“Sustainable, federal PRIIA funding for WMATA is an investment in one of our country's most important mass transit systems -- connecting Virginia, Maryland and DC and serving our nation's capital,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “With the safety and accountability this legislation requires, our federal delegation is providing a lifeline for essential workers and a commitment to the region's economic future.”
“As we recover from the pandemic and move our economy forward, it is crucial that Metro delivers safe, reliable, efficient and equitable services to millions of riders including federal employees,” said Jack McDougle, President & CEO of the Board of Trade and a founding member of the MetroNow Coalition. “The reauthorization is needed to ensure access to opportunities for all our residents and keep the region competitive. The second largest public transit system in the country, Metro requires sufficient resources to make the right investments as well as keep up with the latest technology.”
“A safe, reliable and affordable Metrorail and Metrobus is critical to our region’s economic recovery,” said Julie Coons, President and CEO of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce and a founding member of the MetroNow Coalition. “The WMATA Authorization’s Federal investment now will keep Congress’ commitment to our transit system – the same system the Federal government and its employees rely upon – and help get the region fully running again.”
“Metro is the backbone of our region, critical for our government, private-sector, and essential workforce, and a lynchpin in our efforts to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change," said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and a founding member of the MetroNow Coalition.
Bill text is available here. A one page summary is available here. The legislation is expected to be formally introduced when the Senate returns to session next week following the President’s Day work period.