Virginia and Metro officials were close to finalizing an agreement on transit agency funding Wednesday afternoon, likely ending a spat just in time for Thursday's deadline for the first installment of the money.
Metro's board of directors is scheduled to hold an emergency phone meeting Thursday morning to approve the deal. The rushed-yet-public meeting would allow the transit agency to make a Monday deadline to order new rail cars, paid for partly with those funds.
Metro and Virginia had been engaged in a game of high-stakes chicken after Gov. Bob McDonnell threatened to withhold $50 million from the agency unless the state was able to appoint two of the four Virginia representatives to Metro's board, instead of the current slate of local elected officials.
Metro's board of directors Representatives to Metro's 16-member board are chosen in different ways depending on jurisdiction: The District has two councilmen and two appointees; Maryland's four representatives are political appointees; and federal officials have two new political appointees currently serving and two more slots to fill.
Virginia, though, has four slots chosen by the 20-person Northern Virginia Transportation Commission. Typically those seats are given to two elected Fairfax County officials, one Arlington politician and one elected official who rotates from the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church and Fairfax. The state has one vote on the commission, representing the transportation secretary.
But just as the Metro board makeup varies, so, too, does the funding model. Maryland pays all of its local subsidies for Metro, while Virginia's local jurisdictions contribute directly for operating and capital expenses.
A task force from the Greater Washington Board of Trade and Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments is currently studying how to improve the governance of Metro. It is hosting a public forum on the issue 9 a.m. Thursday, at 777 North Capitol St. NE.
Metro came back with its own ultimatum last week, saying Virginia needed to commit the money it had promised or a long-sought $3 billion funding agreement among the federal government, the District, Maryland and Virginia would unravel. Interim General Manager Richard Sarles called such a move "devastating."
In the short term, he said, it would have put into question an $886 million contract with Kawasaki Rail Inc. to build 428 new rail cars, a key step in Metro's safety improvements after last year's deadly Red Line crash.
Virginia is supposed to pay $12.5 million of its share Thursday.
The state submitted a draft agreement to Metro on Friday. As of Wednesday afternoon, Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said, the agency had an "almost final draft" in the works.
Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay, who serves on Metro's board, told The Washington Examiner that Metro and the state had come to a funding agreement. And, he noted, Virginia officials had decided to "divorce" the funding from who represents the state on Metro's board.
But even with an agreement, the issue of Metro board representation hasn't been dropped. Virginia officials and the four Metro board members are expected to offer dueling resolutions Thursday night at a meeting of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, which chooses who serves on Metro's board. McKay said he expects the votes may split on party lines.
Neither the Virginia governor's office, nor the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation returned calls Wednesday afternoon.