Image by Joe Flood licensed under Creative Commons.

The Maryland General Assembly passed legislation Thursday providing dedicated state funding for Metro of $167 million per year. With this action, regional dedicated funding for Metro is a big step closer to reality.

The Maryland Metro/Transit Funding Act (SB 277/HB 372) was introduced by Senator Brian Feldman and Delegates Marc Korman and Erek Barron. The legislation establishes a dedicated, permanent allocation to Metro of $167 million per year from the Maryland Transportation Trust Fund. The bill passed the Senate unanimously, and the House on a bipartisan basis.

The funding is dependent on Virginia and DC establishing their own dedicated funding streams of $154 million and $178 million, respectively. Last month, Virginia passed their $154 million share of dedicated funding, and the District has signaled its intent to pass legislation to fund their share of $178 million. With Maryland’s commitment to $167 million nearly finalized, the three jurisdictions are poised to meet Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s request for an additional $500 million annually for needed capital improvements.

This is welcome news for regional Metro advocates — including many that work on transportation and environmental issues — that have been pushing for dedicated funding for years. The MetroNow Coalition, including the Coalition for Smarter Growth, Federal City Council, Greater Washington Board of Trade, and the Greater Washington Partnership, worked with legislators in both Richmond and Annapolis to move the respective bills in the right direction.

The new dedicated funding from Maryland will be for capital costs, as requested by Metro, and it will be made in addition to current yearly capital allocations to Metro from the state. The bill requires the existing capital contribution to increase at 3% annually over the previous year’s amount to ensure that overall Metro capital funding from the state does not lapse over time.

The new dedicated funding comes with several requirements. In addition to being dependent on Virginia and DC paying their respective shares, the bill also requires WMATA to provide a continuous stream of data and information to Maryland, including giving Maryland strict oversight of any modified audit opinions received by WMATA.

While primarily a WMATA bill, the legislation was amended to include three years of additional funding for the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) and some new requirements for that agency. The additional funding is in response to the significant issues the Baltimore City Metro system is currently facing, and amounts to an extra $60 million per year for three years in both operating and capital.

The legislation was the result of of regional, bicameral, and bipartisan cooperation. Governor Larry Hogan last fall had proposed an additional allocation of $125 million to WMATA for four years only, and the legislation passed yesterday originally started at that number. However, after negotiations with the administration, the legislature was able to increase the amount to Maryland’s full $167 million share with the bill still having the support of the Governor.

With yesterday’s vote, the legislation now heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

As the funding bill nears signing, an accompanying bill by the same legislators to enhance WMATA oversight is also close to passage. While WMATA needs more funding, money alone will not solve its challenges. The provisions within the funding bill and accompanying legislation that impose a greater level of scrutiny on WMATA are important measures to ensure that this regional investment is well managed.

With the renewal of federal capital funding for Metro through the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 in jeopardy, the achievement of regional consensus to reach $500 million absent federal funding became more important. Since WMATA’s formation in 1967, the region has never been closer to achieving dedicated funding for Metro. Thanks to the hard work of advocates and lawmakers, WMATA may soon have what it has lacked for over 50 years.

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Sean Emerson is a lifelong resident of the Four Corners area of Silver Spring, where he blogs about his community at Around The Corners. He became interested in planning and transportation issues after reading Just Up the Pike and Greater Greater Washington. He has served on the board of Action Committee for Transit since 2016. His views expressed here are his alone.