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Metro’s partnership

This article on the status of Metro’s current projects such as the North Line BRT is both encouraging and frustrating.

Two of Metro’s bus rapid transit projects will be part of a federal pilot program to measure the potential cost savings of public-private partnerships, a move that could expedite the development of the transit corridors, officials announced today.

One private firm or a consortium of private companies will be responsible for all construction and project management under the terms of the Public-Private Partnership Pilot Program, known as Penta-P, U.S. Transportation Department officials said.

Washington Group Transit Management Co. was selected earlier this month to handle Metropolitan Transit Authority’s four corridor projects, including the North and Southeast bus rapid transit lines chosen for inclusion in the federal program. Although no formal agreement has been reached, the company would maintain and operate the lines, assume partial risk and share in the profits.

Metro and the Idaho-based parent company still are negotiating those issues.

It would be very nice to have some kind of basis for comparison to other public/private partnership projects here. How does this stack up to, say, the Trans Texas Corridor, or any of the local RMA toll road projects that are going on? These things have generated a lot of controversy, while I’ve not heard a peep about Metro’s plan so far. Maybe that’s because there are fundamental differences, and maybe it’s because not much is known about Metro’s plan yet. From what there is here, this sounds more like subcontracting than anything else, but I find myself groping for descriptors. More information, please!

This is the encouraging part:

Construction on the North and Southeast bus rapid transit lines, which ultimately may be converted to rail lines, will begin this year and service should be available in 2011, Metro spokeswoman Sandra Aponte Salazar said.

The capital cost for both lines comes to about $432 million, Salazar said. A combination of federal grants and Metro sales tax funds will cover the cost of the four lines, estimated at more than $1 billion, Metro officials have said.

“This shows that the federal leadership is interested in the project and committed to it,” she said.

The selection of one firm for the public-private project could save money and development time, Transportation Department officials said.

Salazar said the inclusion of the two corridors in the federal program could shave about two years from the project. She could not provide an estimate of cost savings.

“Metro’s inclusion in this program is a significant step toward our promise to Houstonians to build a comprehensive transit system plan to help solve our region’s traffic congestion and air quality problems,” Metro board chairman David Wolff said.

We knew a little of this already, but it’s nice to hear again, and it’s definitely nice to see real, tangible progress on the 2012 Solutions plan. I can’t wait till groundbreaking.

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