METRO rail plans could get boost from federal govt.

February 14, 2011 5:30:31 AM PST
Transportation here in Houston could be getting a boost of millions of dollars, especially when it comes to METRO's light rail plans. It all hinges on President Obama's budget that's set to be presented to Congress Monday. Lawmakers say the extra money will help the current plans move forward.

While there will be many projects on the chopping block in President Obama's proposal, a local congresswoman says the METRO light rail project is not one of them. But the budget is far from a done deal.

It's a project that has continuously hit both red and green lights -- expanding the METRO light rail beyond its single line that's been operating since 2004. Construction on additional lines has moved slowly.

"It's a shining star in construction in a southwest city," said U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. "New starts in a city that is going to be number three in the nation in terms of size, so we truly need it."

The active projects known as the North Corridor lline and Southeast Corridor line are both part of the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program and on the cusp of securing full funding grant agreements.

The total federal share for the two lines is $900 million. While $300 million was part of the two previous fiscal year budgets, half of that money never made it to Houston due to cuts.

In a letter to the president last month, Jackson Lee urged the president to include this funding, saying it will benefit jobs and boost urban mobility. And while she says it is included in the president's initial plan that will be rolled out tomorrow, the next question is will it remain there?

"That's a real good question and I think the fact that when I got the call today, they indicated that many projects fell by the wayside because of the budget restraints, that if you did make it into the president's budget, you have a very good chance for his advocacy," said Jackson Lee.

Jackson Lee says the budget fight will be a painful one. Everything will be looked at, from NASA, EPA funding, education, Medicare and Medicaid. Final budget approval must come from congress and the debate could last for months.

The overall budget that is set to be proposed is believed to include more than $1 trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years.

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