The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has notified the transit systems in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia that it will withhold five percent of Fiscal Year 2017 transit formula funds, effective immediately, until a new State Safety Oversight Program (SSOP) is certified for the rail operations of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). The funds will be withheld until the jurisdictions meet related requirements in order for FTA to certify a new SSOP for WMATA Metrorail.
"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 Matthew Welbes, FTA executive director. "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."
The FTA informed the governors of Virginia and Maryland and the mayor of the District of Columbia that failure to obtain a certified SSOP for the WMATA Metrorail system by February 9, 2017, may result in the withholding of federal transit funds.
The five percent of Fiscal Year 2017 the FTA will withhold is part of the Urbanized Area formula funds from eight recipients of FTA funds in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Under the current continuing budget resolution through April 28, 2017, this amounts to approximately $8.9 million 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 an SSOP for WMATA Metrorail, 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 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 are adequate and meet all statutory requirements.