Credit: Darrow Montgomery

In a letter to Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld last month, the Federal Transit Administration denied the agency $20 million in grant funding that was supposed to go towards renovating rail stations and upgrading the fare-collection system, public documents before Metro’s board this week reveal.

On Thursday, the board is set to approve Metro’s proposed $950 million capital budget for fiscal year 2017 and a $6 billion capital-improvement program over the next several years. A memo says the FTA, which took control of Metro safety oversight in October, is “withholding $20 million of funding for use on two projects that were not deemed safety-critical”—station rehabilitation and automated fare-collection modernization—though Metro will “continue to advance those two projects with non-federal funding sources.”

But “if spending advances too quickly on projects that are not eligible for FTA funds, while lagging on other federally-funded projects, Metro could exhaust all its state/local funds and planned debt.” That suggests Metro perceives a significant financial risk in losing access to federal funds.

Asked to comment on the withholding of the funding, an FTA spokesperson furnished the administration’s March 22 letter in response to Metro’s submission of its FY 2017 capital-improvement plan in February. The letter, from Regional Administrator Terry Garcia Crews, cites that Metro had proposed nearly $900 million in projects, “with a projected $473 million from [the] FTA,” or just over half of the budget proposal. It outlines three criteria for approving funds: safety, preventative maintenance, and regulation compliance.

A Metro spokesperson tells City Desk that the transit agency will tap into “system performance funds” (state and local contributions that go “above and beyond required grant matching funds”) and “proceeds from a planned issuance of long-term debt” in order to finance its station and fare-collection ameliorations. Per the board document, this pair of sources totals $2 billion out of the $6 billion capital investment plan.

“Given [the] FTA’s current direction regarding safety critical needs, Metro will fund the $20 million for station rehabilitation and automated fare collection system projects entirely out of those two non-federal sources in FY2017,” the spokesperson explained. “The change in planned funding source will not have an impact on the schedule or expected delivery of those two projects in FY2017.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery