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Metro Upgrades Await Long-Term Congressional Plan

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WMATA can't continue to make safety upgrades without a clearer picture of the federal funding it will receive.
Joe Phillipson: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jphilipson/5510492549/
WMATA can't continue to make safety upgrades without a clearer picture of the federal funding it will receive.

Before Congress left town for its spring recess, lawmakers passed a short-term transportation bill. Maryland Democratic Senator Ben Cardin says a long-term agreement is needed or Metro riders could be put at risk.

The transportation bill passed by Congress was only a three-month extension of the nation's transportation authorization. It was negotiated before the two chambers left town, but it leaves the nation without long-term transit funding. The Senate already passed a two-year extension of the U.S. transportation bill, but House leaders have yet to act on that or pass their own bill. During this two-week Congressional recess, Maryland Democratic Senator Ben Cardin says he was on standby to negotiate a solution, but House members never came to the table.

"We were ready, so there's been no evidence that they're serious about that," says Cardin.

House Republicans wanted a six-year extension paid for by expanding U.S. oil drilling. A bi-partisan group of senators avoided that debate by passing a two-year extension instead.

Cardin says some Republicans are now trying to derail the bill: "What some in the House want to do is to basically to kill the bill by slow death. A three-month extension makes it much more difficult to get a long-term extension passed ... Because the revenue issues become more difficult. Every short-term extension makes the longer term revenue issues more controversial between Democrats and Republicans."

This uncertainty leaves business groups, construction firms and transit officials in a bind. Senator Cardin says it also has an effect on Metro safety.

"Projects are going to be delayed, and these projects can affect safety," says Cardin. "There's no question about that. So yes, it does affect safety, it does affect convenience, it does affect service. All that is put at risk."

It's been almost three years since nine Metro riders were killed when two Red Line trains collided. To address concerns raised by the accident, Metro officials say they're updating train cars, control systems, and rail lines. WMATA deputy general manager Dave Kubicek says all of the upgrades are dependent on continued, long-term federal aid.

"We cannot make these investments without our partnership with Congress and the federal government," says Kubicek.

House Republican leaders still haven't been able to muster the votes in their conference to pass their version of the transportation bill.

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