After A Rough Start, Federal Officials Pleased With Metro's Progress On Light Rail
by: Gail Delaughter, December 19, 2013 4:12:00 pm
Metro says it hasn't had too many problems with the construction of Houston's three new light rail lines, but those projects got off to a rocky start.
Back in 2010, Metro's board had to cancel a contract with a Spanish rail car company. That contract violated the Federal Transit Administration "Buy America" rule, and it put $900 million in federal funding in jeopardy.
But today it appears federal transportation officials have changed their attitude.
"Well I think we really have turned a corner with Houston Metro."
Federal Transit Administration chief Peter Rogoff says he thinks Metro has done a good job with the light rail projects, with no reports of cost overruns or major delays.
And he's pleased to see Metro is opening the North Line extension ahead of schedule.
"More recently, their performance in building out the north and southeast lines, as well as delivering the system on time and on budget, they're actually ahead of time, ahead of schedule, and providing the service to the citizens a lot sooner than expected, which is all good news."
But with the area's population expected to grow by about a million people by 2035, Rogoff says it will take more than just trains to keep things moving.
Following a 2013 funding referendum, Metro is now placing much of its focus on bus transit.
The agency hopes to reverse declining ridership by altering many of the city's bus routes to reflect current population and employment patterns.
Some of those routes haven't changed in decades.
"You can't put too much money in one area with a light rail line, without recognizing that all the other communities need bus service that's reliable, and also making those connections to employment centers."
Rogoff expects Houston will be a strong candidate for more federal money in the years to come, especially if local officials are able to come up with matching funds.
But he says it's hard to predict what the future holds, despite the Obama administration's request for more money for bus and rail projects around the country.