December 04, 2007
FTA tells Metro to resubmit paperwork for funding

Mere formality, or potential genuine stumbling block? Beats me.

Federal transit officials have told the Metropolitan Transit Authority it must re-apply for approval of its preliminary engineering work for planned light rail lines in the north and southeast corridors.

The Federal Transit Administration's decision was prompted by Metro's announcement that it would build rail rather than bus rapid transit in the two corridors, according to a letter from Sherry E. Little, the agency's deputy administrator, to Metro chief executive Frank Wilson.

Metro spokesman George Smalley said he believed federal funding for the projects was secure. He said Metro officials were trying to determine whether the letter from the FTA would affect the timetable for the north and southeast corridor projects.


Before the north and southeast projects can be considered for re-approval of preliminary engineering, the FTA must review Metro's updated travel forecasts and capital cost estimates, Little said in the letter to Wilson.

After that review is complete, she wrote, Metro must submit a full application including an updated financial plan, transit-supportive land-use plans and other documentation before the projects can proceed.

What happens if the FTA decides Metro's new travel forecasts are inaccurate or insufficient? Do they go back to BRT again, or do they try to figure out some alternative means of funding the desired light rail? I don't know, and I bet they hope it's nothing more than a theoretical concern. We'll see.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 04, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

METRO knows what FTA's required methodology is, they've come up with new ridership and cost numbers using that methodology, and they know what thresholds they need to meet to get funding. So it's unlikely that the FTA will look at the data and come to a different conclusion. This looks like a paperwork matter: FTA needs METRO to revise a bunch of documents, and that will take some time. I talked to METRO engineering people immediately after the board vote to use LRT, and they expected at least some of that.

Another point: the FTA can feel political pressure. I wouldn't be surprised if John Culberson called FTA and asked them to make sure to force METRO to dot all the i's and cross all the t's. But these lines aren't in his district; the North Line is in Gene Green's and Sheila Jackson Lee's, and the Southeast Line is in Sheila Jackson Lee's. Those reps can call up the FTA and tell them to be sure to process the new paperwork quickly.

Posted by: Christof Spieler on December 5, 2007 7:02 AM