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A few words with David Wolff

The Chron talks to David Wolff, the soon-to-be-former Chair of Metro, about the state of the agency.

Q: Why has it taken six years to build new light rail lines when the Main Street line was built so quickly?

A: Metro pretty much depleted its treasury because it paid $325 million out of its own funds to build the Main Street line — which, incidentally, took three years. If you get federal dollars it’s a completely different ballgame. You have to go through all sorts of procedures, hearings, preliminary engineering. That’s why it takes so much longer.

Q: Does Metro have enough money to build the new light rail lines?

A: We are planning and believe we have the financing and capability to build all five. And we intend to do other things besides light rail. We intend to expand our bus system. We intend to continue building Park & Rides. We’re going to be converting our High Occupancy Vehicle lanes to High Occupancy Toll lanes (for solo drivers willing to pay).

Q: If Metro needed more money, where could it get more?

A: For Metro to have restored to it the funding that the taxpayers originally voted in 1978, which is the full one-cent sales tax. No other transit authority in the country has its sales tax diverted (by one quarter) to build roads, and this is something I believe should never have happened.

Q: How much more a year would Metro get if it had the full one-cent sales tax, and didn’t have to divert 25 percent of that back to its member municipalities for roadwork?

A: Over $100 million a year.

This conversation happened before the Culberson intervention. Wolff has been talking about the sales tax diversion for a little while now. I personally think the idea has merit, but it certainly won’t happen any time soon, not while the city is strapped for cash. I’m wondering if the next Metro chair will feel the same way. If not, it may be another six years before the point comes up again.

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