We now know light rail's price tag

March 4, 2009 3:31:21 PM PST
We now know the estimated price tag to build four new light rail lines in Houston. METRO released the cost, but not everyone supports the light rail plans as they stand now. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

On Wednesday, METRO approved the massive contract to build new light rail lines. It's a deal that has been criticized because the public never got to see the price tag.

If anyone anticipated Wednesday's vote, it was Eric Mrok.

"I'm not happy with them," he told us.

Mrok owns a barbecue restaurant along Harrisburg in east Houston. That's where one of the four proposed rail lines would run, and that could put him out of business.

"I've lost my livelihood," he said. "They're talking about relocation. But relocation, basically, is they'll pack me up and move me."

What troubles Mrok, he says, is the lack of transparency METRO gave going into Wednesday's decision.

"I think there's something more to it," he said. "I think it's more of a land-grab."

It wasn't until Wednesday's meeting that we learned the total amount of the project. It's $1.46 billion, excluding the work that would be done on the University Line.

The first chunk of the money would be parceled off to Parsons Transportation for the first phase of the project. There's $632 million broken down by this list:

  • $390 million on the east corridor
  • $43 million north corridor
  • $47 million on the southeast side
  • $3 million on the Uptown corridor
  • $118 million on actual light rail cars
The funding will come from a variety of sources, says METRO, including voter approved bonds, sales tax and commercial loans. The future of how the remaining money would be spent depends on whether the federal government pitches in and how the financial markets fare over the next two years.

As for why METRO kept the cost under wraps, they say it's because of the negotiations.

"I can tell you personally that in the last 24 hours, we saved about $30 million," said METRO board Chairman David Wolff. "And I think our responsibility is to the people who are paying these dollars, more so than to the media, as much as I love the media and keep them happy because we get judged by the media. I'll fight for the public and take the flak from the media."

The board says there's no guarantee that the $1.46 billion would not increase over the next few years, depending on the market.

The north Line would run from U of H Downtown to Deerfield at Northline Mall. The southeast line would run out of downtown to Griggs. The proposed east end line, which has drawn a lot of complaints, would run from Bastrop to 70th. And the line through Uptown would run from Westpark to the Katy Freeway.

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