METRO pushes back rail vote

June 11, 2008 4:29:46 PM PDT
City officials came close to getting the ball rolling on METRO's rail's expansion on the east side of town. But that won't happen at least for another week. Meanwhile, people struggling to pay the bill at the gas pumps are asking, why the delay? Five years after the first light rail line was built, it remains the only rail line in the city for people who depend on mass transit on a daily basis. They just want to know when will the fighting stop and the building begins?

Like many workers in the medical district, Keith Fills sees mass transit as a crucial part of his daily commute.

"Pretty much use it every day considering how much gas is right now," said Fills.

But light rail riders have no options beyond a single line.

"Unless you're going some place that happens to be convenient to where they think you should get on and off, it's of no value to anyone," said METRO rider Kay Walton.

And so far, efforts to build additional lines have dragged on for years. The latest attempt came Wednesday as city council delayed giving METRO final approval to build new rail lines. METRO's CEO seemed unconcerned.

"The delay of a week in a 100-year project is insignificant," said METRO CEO Frank Wilson.

"You had a groundbreaking scheduled," we said.

"So we reschedule for a week," answered Wilson.

"Don't you think you shouldn't have scheduled it until after you got approval from city council?" we asked.

"We live in a world where we have to be an optimist," said Wilson.

Even for council members who support the idea of more mass transit, some say they don't like METRO's message in trying to get the plan passed.

"But there is a serious management issue at METRO because this entire communications piece, this entire METRO solutions piece has been mismanaged," said Houston Councilmember Ronald Green.

Councilmember Green says METRO has no one to blame but itself for the ongoing delays. He believes if the organization made a better effort to communicate with the community and elected leaders, there would have been less opposition and, in turn, less delay.

"What we have right now with METRO management, we have a team that cannot carry the ball. I believe we brought some people in here. We thought this would be a very smooth transition. I think the by-product of this has been the delay," said Green.

METRO says it has listened to community concerns for years and will try again next week to get council approval. As for that groundbreaking METRO had scheduled? It will now wait until next week.

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