Metro will have a few million dollars left over when it is done building the remaining light rail lines.
After more than three years of construction, Metro officials estimate $39.9 million of the $900 million awarded by the Federal Transit Administration is left over and unlikely to be spent as work wraps up. Contingencies for cost overruns often are built into financial estimates for large transportation projects, notably rail. Metro’s costs have stayed largely in line with estimates of $1.58 billion for the two lines.
None of the federal money applies to the Green Line, which was locally funded. Both the Green Line to the East End and the Purple Line to the southeast are scheduled to open in April.
Most of the leftover money, $24.9 million, is dedicated to the northern segment of the Red Line light rail route, which opened in December 2013. Another $14.5 million is available along the Purple Line, between downtown and the Palm Center Transit Center south of MacGregor Park in southeast Houston.
If the money from the October 2011 agreement isn’t spent, it would go back to federal coffers.
The money can be used only for those two lines, and only for projects related to developing the rail routes, though that does give Metro officials leeway.
Officials on Thursday outlined for a Metro committee some projects they are considering, though more talks are likely as the list is winnowed.
Two of the most significant projects are at the ends of the rail lines, near Northline Commons along the Red Line and at Palm Center Transit Center where the Purple Line terminates.
Metro has a bus transit center near the Red Line terminus, a few steps from the tracks on land owned by Houston Community College. Officials said tying the bus center and rail line together with an elevated walkway would improve conditions for riders.
Metro’s lease for the bus center land expires in 2021, and the agency is working with HCC on a long-term plan for the area incorporating the campus and the transit connection.
Lambert said a rail-bus terminal at the location would be years in the making but would be more affordable if included in the long-term, federally backed rail development.
Additional parking spaces at Palm Center Transit Center would serve a similar purpose, giving more potential riders a way to park at a rail station.
Board members Thursday said it was vital the money be used in ways that benefit riders and residents near the rail lines.
“I think we should be looking at projects that increase ridership,” Christof Spieler said, noting rail use can often be affected by how people arrive at the station. “I absolutely want to look at bus stops.”
Board member Dwight Jefferson said more stations closer to where people live could be beneficial.
“You have the station at Elgin and you do not have another station until a mile down on the other side of the freeway,” Jefferson said. “You have a whole huge stretch of neighborhood that is totally not served on the rail line.”
Remember how the I-10 widening was originally supposed to cost $1 billion, then wound up costing about $2.7 billion? I love having another excuse to bring that up. As far as this goes, I’m with Spieler – projects that would help boost ridership should take priority. That leaves a lot of possibilities, and I hope Metro takes the time to brainstorm and get public input for more suggestions. This is a great opportunity, so let’s make the most of it.