Yesterday, I suggested that the Federal Transportation Administration's rejection of Metro's application for federal matching funds might have had Tom DeLay and John Culberson's involvement. Today's story doesn't exactly disprove that hypothesis.
"It really is a shame Metro continues to be its own worst enemy and create problems that could easily be avoided by obeying the law and following the same rules that every other transit agency in the country has to follow," said U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, a member of the House transportation appropriations subcommittee and a light rail skeptic.
"They want to be given special consideration allowing themselves to cut in line and ask for utterly inappropriate amounts of money or changes in law that they are not entitled to."
When the Metropolitan Transit Authority applied for federal financing of the Northline and Southeast rail segments in August, it asked the FTA to pay for 100 percent of those lines in exchange for Metro footing the entire bill to construct light rail routes later in the Harrisburg and Westpark corridors.
"We did not expect to receive a negative response to it," said David Wolff, Metro board chairman. "We thought it was innovative, and it has been done before in other parts of the country."
Federal law requires a transit agency to pay for at least 20 percent of a project with local money, though the match usually is more like 50 percent. In its application, Metro asked the FTA to consider the next four rail lines together so that by 2012, when they were all done, Metro and the federal government would end up splitting the cost. Not using federal money on the subsequent two lines would allow Metro to skip the lengthy federal "New Starts" application and review process.
"They knew it would not be accepted when they submitted it," said U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land.
Paul Griffo, FTA spokesman, said the agency informed Metro last fall "that's not going to work and they needed to submit a conventional New Starts application."
Culberson said Metro didn't run the plan by him before it was submitted in August. He called the request "highly improper, inappropriate and utterly impossible for the federal government to do." He cited Metro's need to resubmit its financial plan in November as a significant reason the transit authority didn't receive a project rating from the FTA in time to make Tuesday's budget report.
Metro officials wanted the FTA to match them project for project rather than dollar for dollar on each line, as is generally done with urban rail construction nationwide. Metro President and CEO Frank Wilson said other cities, including San Francisco, have been allowed to use the nontraditional approach to get a system built faster.
"We don't see it as inappropriate," Wilson said. "This was the only way to meet the startup date for all the lines and use federal money to do it."
But please, spare me the lecture from Culberson and DeLay. For one thing, if these two big powerful majority-party mukka-muks really cared about getting Houston the transit dollars it deserved, they maybe could have used some of their power and influence to try to persuade the FTA that Metro's proposal was fine as it was. Alternately, if they knew in August that it was going to be turned away and needed to be resubmitted in November, they could have said something publicly prior to November to generate some pressure on Metro to get it right. Saying "I told you so" after the fact, no matter how satisfying and maybe even deserving it may be, simply isn't constructive.
It does score points, though. And maybe it serves a purpose. Too bad it's not a helpful one.Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 10, 2005 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack