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Parker expresses doubt about University and Uptown lines

This is not the sort of thing I want to see.

Mayor Annise Parker cast doubt Wednesday on whether the Metropolitan Transit Authority has the money to pay for two planned light-rail lines that proponents say are critical to the success of the agency’s plans.

Parker said members of her transition team have “drilled down” into Metro’s finances and she now feels comfortable only with the funding plans of three rail lines: the East End, North and Southeast. Construction on those lines is under way.

Parker’s goal is to make sure those three lines are built “very, very rapidly,” she said. The other two, the Uptown and University lines, “are lines that I want to see built, but until we can finalize all the numbers, and some of them are still moving, I’m not going to commit to whether that is possible.”

The difference between building the two U lines and not building them is the difference between having a fully functional rail transit system and having a few light rail lines. Among other things, the various commuter rail lines that are being talked about will be far less useful if you can’t continue riding rail into places like Greenway Plaza and the Galleria. The University line is the linchpin, as David Crossley put it, and not having it would leave a gaping hole.

Having said all that, it’s a little early to panic. The University line is an excellent bet to receive federal funds, which will help a lot. If you listened to my interview with John Breeding of the Uptown Management District, he believed the Uptown Line was at least five years away, perhaps more like ten, and it’s likely that the financial picture will be quite different by then. And of course there’s the matter of the 2003 referendum, in which the voters approved building these lines. You’d think there will be some pressure to finish the job.

Responding to Parker’s comments, [Metro Board Chair David] Wolff said he believed the agency’s funding plan is feasible, although he was happy to discuss the matter further with the mayor.

Metro confirmed this week that it intends to issue $2.6 billion in bonds in the next few years, about four times the amount of debt approved by voters in 2003, to finance its rail plans. The agency said voter approval of the bonds is not necessary.

Wolff said Metro will be able to pay down the bonds it will have to issue for the University and Uptown lines and remains confident that the remaining puzzle piece — an additional $700 million in federal funding — will be approved by the Federal Transit Administration.

The bond question was the subject of a story from yesterday in which we get the usual treatment of someone who is not a rail supporter trying to tell the rest of us what the referendum really said. I’ll simply note here that that point was not addressed by Mayor Parker and leave it at that until we see what the transition team has to say.

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4 Comments

  1. Mike says:

    First Obama has been a great disappointment so far and now Parker gets her start by attacking high-quality mass transit for Houston at every opportunity she gets. Makes me wonder why I bother voting Democrat. At least with the Republicans, you know they are anti-progress. The Democrats talk progress but then when elected its all budget cuts and half-measures to address pressing issues like health care and transportation.

    Mayor Parker, I suggest you champion our mass transit plans – if there are budget problems, let’s raise them, address them, and get past them, not use them to attempt to cast doubt on our fine city’s future.

  2. […] commuter rail line from Galveston into Houston will be a much more valuable commodity if there is a fully functional rail system for it to connect to. But you already knew that, […]

  3. […] Chron takes a closer look at Metro’s finances and the recently expressed doubts about their ability to pay for the University and Uptown lines. Mayor Annise Parker said last week […]

  4. […] the ridership projections. I hope that Klotz presents different scenarios in its report, one with a fully functional rail system, and one without. I for one would not be surprised if the line isn’t feasible without this […]

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