Monday, February 13, 2017

Portion of Virginia, Maryland and D.C. federal funds withheld until SSOP for WMATA in place

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The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will withhold five percent of federal funds to the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia until a new Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) State Safety Oversight Program (SSOP) is in place.

FTA notified the transit systems in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia that effective immediately the transit formula funds from Fiscal Year 2017 will be held until a SSOP is certified for WMATA rail operations. The funds will be withheld until the jurisdictions pass identical legislation and meet related requirements in order for FTA to certify a new SSOP for WMATA Metrorail and can be restored once the jurisdictions establish a federally-compliant, FTA-certified SSOP.

The governors of Maryland, Virginia and the mayor of the District of Columbia have been informed of the FTA's decision. The funding freeze affects eight FTA fund recipients, which allocate the funding to transit agencies in their respective areas. FTA says that under the current continuing budget resolution through April 28, 2017, this amounts to approximately $8.9 million, in total, for the two states and the district. Based on a full-year appropriation, the total amount that may be withheld in Fiscal Year 2017 is estimated at approximately $15 million.

In order for FTA to certify a SSOP for WMATA rail, the jurisdictions must still take several key actions, including:

  • Passing identical legislation by Maryland and Virginia state legislatures and the District of Columbia and signed by the state governors and district mayor.
  • Submitting a certification application and documentation to FTA showing that the State Safety Oversight Agency (SSOA) has independence from the rail transit system it oversees; enforcement and investigation authority; adequate staffing and training; FTA grant recipient status; and has met general program requirements.
  • Participating in a transitional hand-off period whereby FTA officials work side-by-side with new SSOA officials to ensure they are capable of conducting all oversight responsibilities required by Federal law.
  • Verifying with FTA that the new SSOA's enforcement and oversight capabilities, as well as their inspection, investigation and audit activities are adequate and meet all statutory requirements.

"By law, states have the primary responsibility for overseeing the safe operation of their rail transit systems, not only for riders but for transit operators and workers," said FTA Executive Director Matthew Welbes. "FTA has been providing oversight for WMATA Metrorail since October 2015, but the role is temporary. We will continue to direct safety oversight of Metrorail only until the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia step up and establish an FTA-certified State Safety Oversight Program."

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