METRO puts off plans for university rail line

September 7, 2012 7:08:33 PM PDT
We're investigating millions of dollars in METRO's broken promises; money set aside for a major rail line that may now be wasted.

Over the last decade, METRO spent $71 million of your dollars to build a rail line. But the agency recently took that project off the table for at least another decade and no work has been done.

So where did all that money go?

Ten years ago, METRO promised to build a light rail line starting out on Hillcroft through Montrose, downtown, out past TSU, UH and stopping just east of 45.

Ten years later, nothing's been built on the University Line and nothing will be built until at least 2025 if METRO gets its way.

"It think this is a sad day for Houston," said David Robinson with the Neartown Houston Association.

Robinson lives along the route in Neartown. He patiently waited, even supported METRO's plan to wait. But now he feels duped.

"We don't understand how we were sold out," Robinson said.

"Why repair something you are going to tear up again? So currently, the streets have become really terrible," Former Houston City Councilwoman Sue Lovell said.

Lovell says the city held off on road repairs, waiting on light rail and now there's no money to fix the raods.

"Nobody's told us now what's going to happen on this corridor," she said.

"We're trying to close the gap," METRO Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia said.

METRO says they simply don't have the money to do this now and won't for more than a decade. But METRO's already spent $71 million on the project, even as recently as last year.

"We believe that every dollar of taxpayer money, whether it comes from the fare box, tax money or federal money, we need to spend it as wisely as possible," METRO CEO George Grenias said.

In fact, if METRO hadn't spent the money on studies and land and lawyers and meetings and newspaper ads, they could've taken $71 million bills and laid them down along the route, paving it from curb to curb and then some with your money.

"It's an enormous amount of money," Garcia said.

The agency spent $14 million studying on environmental studies that will soon be out of date. METRO spent another $2.5 million on land appraisals, and they're no good anymore. So that's $16.5 million gone. And METRO spent $54 million studying possible routes and picking the final one, only some of which may be useful in 10 years, but who knows.

"We're not going to get ahead of ourselves," Grenias said.

Not METRO. And they won't do the work to figure out how many of your dollars were really wasted until after a November METRO referendum.

"By why shouldn't voters have that information before they vote?" we asked Grenias.

"The voters, I think, have all the information that we have. We've told them everything we know," he said.

But it's not enough for the people who live along the rocky road that was going to be a rail line.

"Yeah ok, we're angry. I think that's a fair statement," Robinson said.

Tired of the bumps and tired of bad promises, some of METRO's strongest supporters have had enough.

"People feel betrayed," Lovell said.

METRO provided all the numbers for the money it's already spent, and points out that is proof they are approaching things differently these days - showing their hands warts and all.

METRO officials issued the following statement late Friday night:

"The METRO Board has not scrapped plans for the University Line. While work has slowed down METRO has not pulled this project out of its rail expansion program. The transit agency is being fiscally responsible, and as we have stated in the past, METRO will proceed with rail expansion as funds become available. Please keep in mind that we are currently constructing three new light rail lines that will be open to the public in 2014."


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