Slow to create transit safety agency, Maryland loses federal funds

The federal government announced Friday that it will withhold millions in transportation funding from Maryland.

Maryland, together with Virginia and Washington, D.C., missed a deadline Thursday to create a new safety agency to oversee the Washington-area Metro rail system, despite agreeing more than seven years ago that one was necessary.


A year ago, frustrated with the delay in the face of deadly accidents, the Federal Transit Administration gave the states and District of Columbia until Feb. 9 to pass identical legislation creating the new safety agency or face losing 5 percent of the federal money each receives for urban transit projects.

The jurisdictions did not meet the deadline to have the safety agency up and running. The D.C. Council passed legislation to create it, but Maryland and Virginia have not.


Federal officials are withholding nearly $9 million of the $178 million appropriated to those jurisdictions this year.

Maryland's portion comes to at least $2.4 million, and includes money the Maryland Transit Administration uses for service in Baltimore and near Aberdeen.

Maryland Department of Transportation spokeswoman Erin Henson said as long as D.C., Maryland and Virginia create the oversight agency before the federal fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, there will be no effect on the state budget.

State legislation to create the Washington Metro Rail Safety Commission was introduced during the second week of this year's annual General Assembly session. The first hearing on the measure was Thursday afternoon — the same day as the federal deadline.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn wrote to federal officials in August asking them to reconsider the deadline.

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"Even if taken up and considered at the earliest possible opportunity, the political and logistical realities of our General Assembly calendar, like that in Virginia, simply will not allow us to meet your deadline," he wrote.

U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen released a joint statement Friday urging federal officials to rethink withholding the money.

"Cutting off resources for projects midstream will affect safety and increase overall costs, which is exactly the opposite of what FTA should be trying to accomplish," the statement said.


The FTA assumed safety oversight of the Metro system in October 2015, an action designed to be temporary until the jurisdictions created an agency to replace the Tri-State Oversight Committee.

Federal officials said Friday that the 2009 Fort Totten collision that killed nine people "exposed the inadequacy" of the commission.