As the General Assembly prepares to convene, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) today, in a unanimous vote, called upon the Commonwealth to act expeditiously to form a Metro Safety Commission (MSC). The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has given Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia until February 9 to pass identical legislation establishing the MSC as an independent agency charged with oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). FTA, which currently oversees WMATA, has indicated it is prepared to withhold a percentage of federal transit funds should the deadline not be met. Those funds support transit in urban areas throughout the Commonwealth, not just Northern Virginia.
“Ensuring the safety of Metrorail is paramount and demands immediate action,” said NVTC Chairman Jay Fisette. “Only an independent body with the authority to mandate change can get Metro back on track. Given the benefits that accrue from Metro’s presence, the region must provide the leadership and resources necessary to establish and support the MSC. We must collaboratively do this and return Metro oversight to our three jurisdictions.”
FTA assumed responsibility for Metro oversight in October 2015 following a smoke incident at L’Enfant Plaza. The move followed a FTA determination that the Tri-State Oversight Commission was no longer capable of providing adequate safety oversight of WMATA. A bill passed by Congress last year granted the transportation secretary authority to withhold 5 percent of transit-related capital funding to a state or a group of jurisdictions if their regional safety oversight agency is deemed inadequate. In the Commonwealth, that could amount to as much as $6 million.
NVTC, which appoints Virginia’s members of the WMATA Board of Directors, adopted a legislative and policy agenda last month supporting the establishment of the MSC in order to “enhance the safety and security of riders and systems in the region through diligent oversight.”