I’m really at a loss to understand how the previous Metro board could have put $900 million at risk to make it easier for their manufacturer to build two prototype light rail cars.
Eight days after federal officials rejected the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s request for a waiver from federal requirements that it assemble its light rail cars in the U.S., the transit agency signed a deal for two Spanish-assembled pilot vehicles.
The contract could violate a provision of the “Buy America” rule, which Mayor Annise Parker said earlier this week threatens a $900 million federal grant that the agency needs to continue building out its light rail system.
Parker accused Metro of either misleading the Federal Transit Administration, or of basing its decision on flawed assumptions.
A review of Metro records indicates that the transit agency’s officials proceeded with the contract — despite the waiver denial — because they believed they had a remedy: Purchasing the two cars produced in Spain with local funds through a separate contract.
A year later, a letter from the FTA to Metro announcing an investigation of its compliance with Buy America rules showed that strategy was flawed.
I suppose I can understand the thinking that “it’s only two prototypes, the 100+ others are all compliant, what’s the big deal?”, but when someone else makes the rules, it’s best not to fool around. The FTA hasn’t specifically ruled on the usage of local funds, and the new Metro board still has a week to make their official response, so nothing is certain yet. One possibility, I suppose, is to renegotiate the deal so that those two cars, or two replacements for them, are now built in the US. I don’t know how much that might cost, but I’ll bet it’s less than $900 million. I just hope that, or something else, is acceptable to the FTA. The Metro board is meeting now, so maybe we’ll know more about this, and about the fate of Frank Wilson, who will royally deserve his firing if the FTA pulls the rug out, soon enough.