Sunday, December 9, 2007

Houston vs. FTA Update

As it turns out, Houston had submitted documents to the FTA describing rail ready BRT lines that could be converted at some point. They just decided to go straight to light rail instead. In an article today in the Houston Chronicle, the information requested from the FTA was found to be mostly documents that Metro had already submitted. The letter that was sent seems like a last ditch effort by the FTA political appointees to scare Metro into keep moving towards the FTA's currently favored mode.

The FTA's motives for withdrawing its approval after earlier approving the planned conversion to rail are unclear, but the move smacks of partisan vindictiveness. Although Little claimed in her letter that federal guidelines required the proposal to be resubmitted, Metro officials pointed out that the document's harsh tone was a striking change from previous cooperation between the agencies.

Metro's initial plan called for rail to be laid and covered on the BRT routes in preparation for an eventual shift to trains. After the FTA allowed different formulas to be used in measuring potential ridership for the lines, Metro officials decided rail construction was feasible for all the routes.

Hopefully by next November all this political jostling will be over. However I would also like to see the transit agencies stand up to the FTA and tell their congressmen they are tried of having to deal with ideology when building their transit systems. With agencies not wanting to bite the hand that feeds them, they have just let the FTA continue to push towards higher and more ridiculous standards that keeps some cities from even applying for federal funds. Perhaps this move by Metro is the first in a set of moves by the transit industry to fight back. The Chronicle editorial says it best and speaks for all transit agencies in its comments below.

Houston needs an expanded mass transit system sooner rather than later. Our elected federal officials who support that plan need to make their voices heard at the FTA to counter rail opponents and make sure backroom power plays do not delay construction.

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