December 09, 2007
Metro says they'll start construction on time anyway

The latest Metro Solutions email blast directly addresses their recent kerfuffle with the FTA.

Recent news reports about METRO and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) may have left the false impression that two of Houston's five proposed light rail lines are in jeopardy. They are not.

We do not expect delays on the start of construction, which is scheduled for next spring.

The Federal government already has the vast majority of information needed to evaluate these light rail projects.

METRO is working aggressively to provide the federal government the remaining documentation requested.

Well all-righty then. If that turns out to be the case, then we can file this under "tempest in a teapot". Let's hope so.

Meanwhile, the Chron jumps in the fray.

Houston leaders reacted with puzzlement and concern to a pointed letter from FTA Deputy Administrator Sherry Little withdrawing approval for the two lines and calling for extensive new documentation and public hearings. The letter also includes a request that Metro demonstrate its technical capability to implement light rail, an odd requirement considering the demonstrated success and strong ridership of the existing Main Street line.

FTA officials say they warned Metro that the federal agency would be obstructive if Metro changed its plans. The warning, however, does not justify the obstructive behavior.

Metro CEO Frank Wilson says most of the information the FTA wants has already been provided and can easily be resubmitted. Some environmental assessments for the lines could take up to six months to rework, but that should not delay the 2012 completion dates for the entire light rail system if there are no further federal demands.

"We can begin some other places on the locally funded work and double back later and pick up the pieces that are," Wilson said. "What I can't gauge at this time and I can't control is their time for review and their time for approval."

Work on the new lines is expected to begin in May of next year.

The FTA's motives for withdrawing its approval after earlier approving the planned conversion to rail are unclear, but the move smacks of partisan vindictiveness. Although Little claimed in her letter that federal guidelines required the proposal to be resubmitted, Metro officials pointed out that the document's harsh tone was a striking change from previous cooperation between the agencies.

Not much new here. They're taking Metro at their word regarding the potential for delays, which I hope is reflective of the evidence and not just of hope. And while I'm certainly open to the idea that "partisan vindictiveness" may have a role to play in this, I think they owe us a bit of speculation as to who's being vindictive and why if they're going to bring it up. Rep. Culberson said he wasn't involved. Is the Chron dismissing his denial, or hinting that there's another possible suspect? It would be nice to know.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 09, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles