ANNAPOLIS — A Metro safety bill required to recover funds withheld by the federal government earlier this month came a step closer to final passage on Friday.
The Maryland Senate voted 45-0 in favor of the bill, which establishes Maryland’s role in the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission and how members will be selected for the board.
Passing a bill authorizing the commission became critical earlier this month after the Federal Transit Administration notified the transit systems in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia that it was withholding 5 percent of their current year’s federal funding because of a delay in creating the oversight board. The federal government had previously set a Feb. 9 deadline.
Federal officials said they would withhold about $8.9 million from the District and two states through April. That could grow to roughly $15 million through the end of fiscal 2017, if the commission isn’t created by then.
The initial funding withheld from Maryland is about $2 million.
Delegate Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery, said as long as the safety commission is created before the end of the federal fiscal year in September, he believes the state won’t lose out on funding.
In October 2015, federal authorities stepped in and immediately assumed the lead responsibility for Metro’s safety oversight “following a number of accidents, incidents and a demonstrated pattern of safety lapses.” Officials with the U.S. Department of Transportation at the time said that the former Tri-State Oversight Committee was ineffective at providing adequate safety oversight to prevent substantial risk of death or personal injury.
With passage in the Maryland Senate, the measure will move to the House of Delegates, where lawmakers have already been working through changes to the law.
While the Senate combined two measures — the compact between D.C. and the two states and separate guidelines on how Maryland will select safety committee members — the House has kept the two pieces of legislation separate. That is consistent with how D.C. and Virginia are moving forward, said Barve, chairman of the House Environment and Transportation Committee.
The Maryland bills say that when the two members of the safety commission are chosen by the governor, at least one of the members must come from Montgomery or Prince George’s counties, which account for 33 percent of Metro’s total ridership. The commission members would be subject to confirmation by the Senate.
The three jurisdictions also must submit an oversight program to the Federal Transit Administration for certification before any of the withheld funds will be released.
Separately in Congress, U.S. Rep. John Delaney, D-6th, has proposed reforms to the Metro system in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Improvement Act.
The bill, introduced Thursday, would increase the transit authority’s funding if reforms aimed at improving safety of the Metro system are passed.
If the bill passes and the reforms aren’t met within 18 months, Congress would withdraw its consent in the three-jurisdiction WMATA compact, which could create a logistical and funding morass.
Proposed reforms in Delaney’s bill include reducing the WMATA board to nine members and adding the authority’s CEO to the panel and requiring all board members to be certified experts in either transit, safety, management or finance.
“Metro needs big improvements and riders can’t wait any longer,” Delaney said. “The problems facing Metro have been widely understood for a very long time and my constituents have endured a long decline in safety, reliability and service.”