On Metro Funding, Train Is Leaving the Station

There were new indications on Thursday that Maryland leaders are poised to hit a crucial funding target set by regional advocates of the Washington area’s Metro system.

The momentum comes just weeks after the Virginia legislature approved a measure allocating $154 million a year in dedicated funding for rail and bus service in the Washington, D.C., region. That funding is contingent on Maryland and the District of Columbia also approving funding measures consistent with the system’s formulas.

For Maryland, that means $167 million a year. A bill now moving through the Maryland House of Delegates provides $150 million, up from the original $125 million.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.:
‘It’s going to be a win-win.’

But on Thursday evening, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said the legislature will come up with its full share.

“We’re going to do $167 [million a year],” he told Maryland Matters. “We’re going to adopt the reforms, if they are reforms, [that] Virginia did.  We’re going to put their proposals in… and it’s going to be a win-win.”

Metro is the third busiest transit system in the nation, but it is the only big-city system in the U.S. that lacks a dedicated source of funding, something the agency has said is a key reason why maintenance has fallen short.

In 2015 and 2016, Metro conducted a 16-phase repair blitz, targeting rails, electrical systems, water drainage and other issues, at great inconvenience to commuters. Ridership levels have yet to fully rebound.

A spokesman for Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said Thursday night that the governor supports the increase to $167 million a year – and indicated that the House will also accede to the proposed increase.

“As the first regional leader to come up with a comprehensive plan funding plan to save Metro, the governor is very pleased to learn that the Senate and House have reached agreement on these final and very important details,” the spokesman, Douglass V. Mayer, said in an email to Maryland Matters. “This legislation has been a bipartisan effort from start to finish and the governor looks forward to signing it as soon as possible.”

Miller said Hogan has every reason to sign on. “Montgomery, Prince George’s, Howard, Charles, they’re all Democratic counties. The fact that he stands up for them, and stands up for the state of Maryland, as well as making it more attractive for Amazon to come here, and making it attractive for Lockheed Martin and making it attractive for Marriott.”

If Maryland follows Virginia’s lead, it will then be up to the D.C. Council to provide the city’s share.

Miller said: “I’ve been in touch with Mayor [Muriel] Bowser. She and I had lunch not too long ago and I’m working with her. She’s going to come up with $178 million [a year, D.C.’s share under the formula] and agree to most of the same proposals, and it’s going to be a win-win for everybody.”

The combined $500 million a year in new funding for Metro will allow the agency to leverage $15.5 billion over the next 10 years, through borrowing, for the new rail cars and other equipment, along with the maintenance the transit system says it needs.

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Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.

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