Rep. Barbara Comstock has introduced legislation aiming to get more money into Metro—and more oversight of its operations.
Comstock said she introduced the “Grants for Reliable, Efficient, and Accountable Transit” or GREAT Act after conversations with local, state, and business leaders around her similar legislation last year. Although that bill, the Metro Accountability and Reform Act, stalled in committee, the Metro leadership and the states since then have agreed to a number of funding and administrative reforms.
“In light of the reforms and changes that have been made collectively there, we wanted to try to scale back our bill to do a more narrow bill that would complement what DC, Maryland and Virginia did,” Comstock said.
And she said the possibility of bringing Amazon’s new headquarters to the region brought the legislation new attention and urgency.
“Because of the whole Amazon situation, you all of a sudden had a renewed interest,” Comstock said.
Among the bill’s measures: reauthorizing the federal Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement grant program for $1.5 billion of 10 years, contingent on $500 million matches from Virginia, Maryland and DC; new whistleblower protections, similar to federal whistleblower protections; moving Metro employees from defined pension plans to savings plans like 401Ks; and narrowing the role of arbitrators in labor disputes.
It also targets union power by creating new protections for union whisteblowers.
The bill comes months after a contentious debate in the Virginia General Assembly on increased transit funding that resulted in some money being moved from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to Metro.
“We have to have people getting back to Metro and knowing it’s a reliable form of transportation,” Comstock said. “We have in this area—certainly in my district in Virginia—we have a high number of professionals, so when you have professionals going to work, they need reliable ways to get to work.”
The bill does not commit to filling a hole in the federal government’s contributions to Metro: capital costs. The federal government only contributes to Metro’s operating costs, while much of Metro’s cost overruns in recent years can be attributed to delayed or neglected capital expenditures like major rail and station maintenance and railcar replacements.
“We’re working to continue the money. I’ve gotten the full funding that has been committed, and we’ve fought for that even against my own guys sometimes, but what we haven’t got is some really just modest reforms that have been recommended by a bipartisan coalition,” Comstock said.
Del. Karrie K. Delaney (D-67) and David A. Reid (D-32), Loudoun’s representatives on the state House of Delegates transportation committee, were unavailable for comment.