FTA forces METRO to get realistic about new lines' cost

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Rad Sallee’s Move It! column is devoted to the news that METRO has been given approval to go ahead with preliminary work on the North and Southeast lines.

However, the Federal Transit Administration also told METRO their cost projections needed to be updated…dramatically:

The Federal Transit Administration, using data provided by Metro, said in its letters that the estimated cost of the North line, which would run 5.5 miles from north of downtown to Northline Mall, has risen to $677 million, from $276 million. The Southeast Line, 6.8 miles from downtown to Palm Center, has risen to $664 million, from $158 million, the FTA said.

By comparison, the 7.5-mile Main Street line cost $324 million and needs $104 million in new rail cars and improvements.

The FTA also sent a review of Metro’s proposals that attributes the increases largely to the higher costs of light rail than BRT, which uses special buses running on guideways. The increases also reflect light rail’s higher ridership projections, extended through 2030, which would require 29 new rail cars and other infrastructure.

Then there are the rising costs of fuel, labor and construction materials. Although Metro’s estimates assume 3.5 percent annual inflation, the FTA reviews describe this as optimistic and say Metro should “refine and update” its figures.

Wow! That’s quite the underestimating!

You may recall what METRO asked for in the original 2003 referendum:

1. Metro wants to issue $640 million in bonds to accelerate construction of the next 22 miles of light rail on five segments. These would open between 2008 and 2012. Metro says the bond issue will not result in a tax increase. State law does not allow the transit authority to raise its 1-cent sales tax.

Shoot, that won’t even cover one line now. But that’s how taxpayers have been stuck with these boondoggle rail systems — wildly underestimated costs, and as Sallee notes toward the end of his column:

But just remember that transit, unlike some toll roads, loses money. Little if any of this would come from profits from transit service itself.

It’s all taxpayer-funded.

Also in Sallee’s column is a breakdown of METRO’s resources. And since there are no funding guarantees from the FTA, METRO’s resources are critical.

What a waste of money. METRO would better serve residents of Houston and surrounding communities by focusing on bus service.

UPDATE: As noted in the forum, Neal Meyer has written a post about the new cost projections. Neal crunches the numbers and discovers that METRO Solutions light rail will now cost $4 billion!

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About Anne Linehan 2323 Articles
Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.