Federal transit officials on Tuesday reversed course and agreed to allow Metro to use nearly $30 million in economic stimulus funds for utility relocation work on the proposed North and Southeast rail lines, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee announced.
Just last week, Metro was told such stimulus funds could not be used on the latest extensions of the rail lines because the projects were not deemed "shovel-ready." Instead, the Federal Transit Administration recommended Metro use its stimulus funds for converting 83 miles of high occupancy vehicle lanes to high occupancy toll lanes.
Jackson Lee said the about-face -- announced in "letters of no prejudice" from the FTA -- followed U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's visit to Houston earlier this month.
LaHood, who was invited here by Jackson Lee to see the light rail line, spent all day March 13 meeting with Metro supporters, officials from various universities and other public institutions.
"He was able to ride on the (rail) system and meet with the head of Texas Children's Hospital, who was able to explain how vital the system was," Jackson Lee said.
Of the total $28.9 million in federal stimulus funds freed up for Metro's rail plans, $19.2 million is earmarked for utility relocation work on the North Corridor Light Rail, while $9.7 million will be devoted to relocating utilities for the Southeast Corridor Light Rail.
The key to getting the economic stimulus funds was proving that Metro could start the work within 90 days -- a requirement to secure the federal monies, Jackson Lee said. The utility relocation work can be contracted and people hired to do the work immediately, she said.