AP NEWS

Proposed budget increases Metro, public transportation money

February 27, 2020 GMT

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The proposed Virginia state budget continues to increase funding for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and includes an amendment to extend rail and bus service in Northern Virginia. The WMATA would receive roughly $160 million in funds from Virginia in 2021 and the same amount of money in 2022.

The WMATA is operated and funded in part by Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. On average, 1 million weekday passenger trips are made on WMATA trains, buses and paratransit services. In Virginia, the WMATA provides service to Fairfax and Arlington counties and Alexandria.

Northam’s proposed budget increases WMATA funding from 2018’s amended biennial budget, which allocated $313.8 million to the transit authority.

The WMATA proposed a $2 billion operating budget for Fiscal Year 2021 that includes extended service hours for trains, additional service for bus routes with high ridership and the elimination of transfer fees between bus and rail. Train fares would increase during peak hours, and fares paid using cash would cost an additional 25 cents.

State funding for the WMATA is allocated by the Department of Rail and Public Transportation, which, under Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed budget, would receive a little over $830 million in 2021 and $838.6 million in 2022. That is a roughly $240 million increase from the 2018 amended budget. Of those funds, $669 million would be used for financial assistance of public transportation in 2021; with over $675 million allocated for the same purpose in 2022. The Senate boosted those amounts in their amended version; $699.8 million and $713 million, respectively. The public transportation funding increased over $200 million from the 2018 amended budget.

The proposed WMATA allocation between House and Senate budget versions differs by a little over half a million dollars. The House approved a budget amendment that includes language ensuring the Commonwealth Transportation Board has the ability to increase the allocation of funds to the WMATA if the board approves service increases.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, introduced a budget amendment that would increase by $2 million the funds for public transportation. The amendment calls for the evaluation of extending public transit from the Franconia-Springfield Metro Station in Fairfax County into Prince William and Stafford counties.

While the proposed amendment would not necessarily allocate money to the WMATA, it would provide funds to evaluate the possibility of extending the WMATA’s Blue Line rail service beyond the final Franconia-Springfield station into Prince William County.

“I have been fighting for this for three years, and with the support of fellow legislators, we can bring vast improvement to our transportation system with ripple effects throughout Virginia,” Surovell said in a statement provided to Capital News Service. “Not only is there a positive impact on the quality of life with a metro option, but moving people by rail uses less energy than moving them by gas-powered vehicles. It reduces our community’s carbon footprint.”

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, urged the federal government to continue funding the Metro, noting that the transit system helps the government function. Last year, Warner introduced the Metro Safety, Accountability and Investment Act, which renews the federal funding commitment to Metro of $150 million a year for an additional 10 years.

“The local jurisdictions have stepped up,” Warner said in a statement. “The federal government has got to do its share.”

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This article was provided to The Associated Press by Virginia Commonwealth University Capital News Service.