Houston to get $900 million to expand light rail

November 28, 2011 3:44:38 PM PST
It was years in the making. Now for the first time, METRO has a fully funded light rail project in the books.

On Monday morning, METRO announced the government is using your taxpayer dollars to pick up the tab of nearly a billion dollars for two light rail routes. The grants go to fund the north and southeast light rails which are being built right now.

For people who support light rail, this is good news. However, for METRO and light rail, there will always be critics.

In the shadow of a north line rail in progress, METRO officials brimmed with excitement. But just as METRO scheduled a long-awaited announcement of $900 million in federal matching grants, a small group of METRO workers had other priorities.

"They'd like to see a fair contract, some improvement on wages, and improvement on working conditions," explained David Gollinger with the METRO Workers' Union.

The METRO bus drivers say they've been working without a contract since October, and any major METRO funding celebration should also give some meaningful raises to its employees. But METRO's CEO George Greanias wanted to focus on the big news of the day.

"We're going to continue to negotiate," he said. "Our workers are important to us, but today is for something else, to celebrate a huge milestone for this community."

Greanias and his staff had reason to be upbeat. For the first time in years the federal government is showing confidence in the way METRO is doing its projects. But even with an infusion of $900 million, critics say the whole concept of light rail is too expensive, and financially irresponsible.

"At $100 million to $200 million per mile, all our children will be paying off the bonds," said METRO critic Daphne Scarborough.

METRO admits the light rail projects will always have its critics. However, with rails already on the ground and a blessing by the feds, construction will continue.

"This is a long term investment in the city of Houston," said Houston Mayor Annise Parker.

The new rail lines are expected to be up and running in 2013 or 2014.


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