Some good news for Metro today.
The Federal Transit Administration's notice of intent to approve preliminary engineering next month for the Main Street light rail extension to Northline Mall and a new line to the southeast side clears a major hurdle for the Metropolitan Transit Authority's efforts to obtain half the projects' costs from Washington. The action is critical because it's difficult to obtain congressional appropriations for rail lines without the FTA's stamp of approval.
Metro submitted its two projects for federal review in August, hoping to obtain a recommendation by February, when the FTA makes its annual report to Congress. The MetroRail lines were not rated in that report last month, however, and the federal agency said at the time it was still reviewing the application.
The FTA rates proposed rail projects on criteria including construction and operating costs compared to forecasted ridership, land use, mobility improvements and environmental benefits.
Houston still has numerous steps toward obtaining the $390 million it needs for the 50 percent federal match on the Northline and Southeast sections. Voters approved the lines in 2003 and authorized bonds to finance the local share.
Anne says that Rep. John Culberon deserves the credit for this and that he's been made out to be an undeserving bad guy all the way through. That's certainly one way to look at it. I look at it this way:
"This is a first sign from the FTA that the light rail projects were positively reviewed and cleared to move forward," said Chris Paulitz, spokeswoman for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. "This is an important step toward completion of the Houston Metro system."
Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, who sits on the House transportation appropriations subcommittee, said he will ask Congress to fund MetroRail at the same level as other projects.
"Metro is entitled to receive funding for preliminary engineering and I will submit their application for funding at a level proportional to similar projects in other cities," he said. "I will work to ensure Houston receives its fair share of transit funding."