METRO is asking the federal government to pick up the tab for the next two light rail extensions.
Metro officials hope that by pledging to pay for all of the subsequent two lines — from Midtown to Hillcroft and downtown to the East End — with local funds, the Federal Transit Administration will agree to foot the bill for the first two.
Typically, the cost of each rail segment is split between Washington and the local transit agency.
Metro's proposal is contained in thousands of pages it is sending to Washington today to meet an annual deadline for getting in the federal funding pipeline. Metro officials said that if the FTA agrees to the plan, the authority can complete all four voter-approved rail extensions a year or two ahead of the 2012 goal set in November's referendum.
Paying for the Westpark and Harrisburg lines with its own dollars would mean Metro could skip all the federally mandated studies, President and CEO Frank Wilson said.
"All those years of planning, all that stuff you normally do, we wouldn't have to do," said Wilson, who briefed board members during Thursday's meeting. "We'll go right to design and build."
In his presentation Thursday, Wilson laid out several scenarios. The best case, he said, would be getting $1 billion in federal funding to pay for the Northline and Southeast routes. If Metro has to build the lines solely with local money — as was done for the Main Street tracks after House Majority Leader Tom DeLay blocked federal funds — it would have to build the routes for rapid buses first and upgrade them later.
"What we can do will be dependent on the amount of federal funding we get, which is why it's so important to have a unified congressional delegation," Metro Chairman David Wolff said.
"If we can convince (DeLay) we are doing the right thing and acting with discipline and openness, he can accomplish great things for us."
DeLay, R-Sugar Land, praised Metro's new leadership last week at the Texas Transportation Summit in Irving.
He said, however, that he would withhold comment on whether he would help Metro obtain federal funds until he has reviewed its FTA application. DeLay has pledged not to block grants for MetroRail expansion if the projects are recommended by the FTA.