Washington Metro funding at risk as safety deadline nears, DOT Inspector General warns

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WASHINGTON — Almost $3.2 billion in Federal transit funding is at risk if three states and the safety commission charged with overseeing the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority system fail to meet an April 15, 2019, deadline for certification of their required safety oversight programs.

A report released Nov. 15 by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation, outlining the department’s top management challenges for 2019, acknowledged that the Federal Transit Administration has made “significant progress” in certifying state programs but warned that some may miss the deadline.

The FTA must certify an approved safety oversight program for each state with a rail transit agency. States are required to create an agency that is independent from the transit agency it supervises. The safety agency has the authority to review, approve, and audit safety plans, and has enforcement authority as well.

To date, 27 states have received certification. New York, New Jersey, and Florida have submitted all documents to the FTA. Steve Kulm, a spokesperson for the FTA, could not say how long the review process takes, as each case is different.

The Metrorail Safety Commission, created in 2017 after a series of safety mishaps on the DC-area Metro system, consists of members from the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. Kulm says, “They have the added burden that we currently have federal oversight of that program so there has to be a transition.”

The transition is currently under way after the commission approved and submitted a safety oversight plan to the FTA in September. [See “Safety plan for DC subway system submitted to FTA,” Trains News Wire, Sept. 12, 2018.] But it must be complete by the April 15 deadline for the commission to be certified to act as the safety oversight agency for WMATA. By law, the deadline cannot be waived or extended. If the commission fails to receive certification, the FTA is prohibited from releasing $638 million in federal funds and will withhold an additional $32 in funds from the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years.

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