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University Line takes a step forward on funding

Finally!

The light rail route known as the “University Line” is close to clearing the first major hurdle for obtaining federal funding.

The Federal Transit Authority notified Metro this week that the project has entered a 10-day congressional notification period. If no member of Congress objects by Dec. 10, then the FTA will give Metro the green light to begin preliminary engineering of the route.

There’s only one member I’d be worried about, but the story didn’t ask for a reaction from Rep. Culberson’s office, so I don’t know what he might be thinking. I don’t know if that’s a cause for optimism or an oversight.

The next step for the University Line will be the Federal Transit Authority’s approval of the route’s environmental impact—a document called the “record of decision.” The North and Southeast lines received that approval in July 2008. Getting a record of decision allows METRO to begin acquiring right-of-way.

The final step is the federal government’s agreement to pay 50 percent in matching funds. Wilson said the North and Southeast lines could clear that hurdle in late January or early February, providing Metro with a $900 million match.

“We are in the wishing and hoping and praying and lighting candles stage,” Wilson said.

If only it were as easy to get funds to build a rail line as it is to get funds to build a highway. Based on the timetable for the North and Southeast lines, I’d guess it’ll be late 2011 at the earliest before work starts on the University line. A press release from Metro about this is beneath the fold.

FTA TELLS CONGRESS IT WILL APPROVE UNIVERSITY RAIL CORRIDOR FUNDING AS PROPOSED BY METRO WITHIN 10 DAYS

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has notified Congress it intends to approve funding for Houston’s University Corridor within the next 10 days. The approval, once established, would allow METRO to enter into the Preliminary Engineering (PE) phase of the FTA’s New Starts programs and construction preparations like utility relocation, right-of-way acquisition, and preparation of final construction plans.

The news, although expected, was warmly received at METRO headquarters where experts are working to meet stringent federal requirements involved in the financing and building of an extensive rail expansion program approved by voters in 2003.

The FTA cites, as reason for approval, the improved transit travel time and reliability due to the light rail operating in a semi-exclusive right of way. The creation of the University line, the FTA goes on to note, will increase transit ridership among commuters who travel five miles or more along Richmond Avenue. This would, in turn, cut the rate of increase of vehicular travel in the transit corridor. Primary markets for the University line include Houstonians commuting from west and southwest homes to jobs near Greenway Plaza and academic institutions.

The FTA approval would cover construction of an 11.3-mile, double-track, 19-station University Corridor Light Rail Transit (LRT) line. METRO will buy 32 light rail vehicles to service the project whose western segment travels Richmond Avenue to Cummins Street, crosses Hwy 59 to Westpark and then to the Hillcroft Transit Center. University’s eastern portion follows Wheeler, Ennis and Alabama streets to the University of Houston. The eastern end would link with the Southeast Corridor (now under construction) on Scott Street and continue north to Elgin.

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2 Comments

  1. [...] Last week, when we heard that the Federal Transit Authority had notified Metro that they would be cleared to begin preliminary engineering of the University Line project if no member of the local Congressional delegation objected by today, I figured there was only one Congressman who mattered. Sure enough, right on cue, here he comes. [U.S. Rep. John Culberson filed a formal objection with the Federal Transit Authority late Tuesday.] The Houston Republican, a persistent critic of the transit agency, contends Metro is in a “precarious financial condition.” He also criticized some of Metro’s financial projections, because they assume future voters will agree to $620 million more in bonds, and approve a major change in how Metro divvies up its 1-cent sales tax revenue. [...]

  2. [...] an old story. Metro gets some good news relating to the University line. Rep. John Culberson tries again to halt the project. The Chronicle [...]

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