METRO accused of violating federal law

HOUSTON The investigation centered around contracts METRO has with a rail car manufacturer in Spain, potentially a big mistake when the agency is depending on federal dollars to get the rail built.

In the investigation released Wednesday, federal investigators said former CEO Frank Wilson and the board should never have agreed to buy rail cars from that Spanish company.

The Federal Transit Administration was so concerned about METRO''s contract to buy light rail cars from the Spanish company that on Wednesday, they came to Houston and spent two hours meeting with Mayor Annise Parker, members of Congress and METRO officials to deliver the results of a four-month investigation.

"How do you feel about the federal government saying METRO actually broke regulations?" we asked acting CEO George Grenias.

"We'll talk at 3 o'clock," he responded, referring to a news conference.

In a letter hand delivered to Grenias, the Federal Transit Authority said in part, "The results of the investigation are alarming and disturbing. They reveal a series of systematic efforts through which METRO and CAF (the light rail manufacturer) sought to bypass numerous federal rules."

"What they told us they need to work on is that the procurement of the rail cars was flawed," said Grenias.

The federal government says it's still committed to helping fund light rail projects in Houston, but for METRO to get the matching funds, it would have to re-bid out the building of the light rail cars; a process that could take up to 20 months and cost millions of dollars.

METRO riders had no idea that the agency is facing such large hurdles.

"If they have legal issues, I guess it would be something I would be concerned about because it affects me every day," said METRO rider Latoya Robinson.

As for Mayor Parker, she says the findings sting but aren't surprising. And she's just relieved the federal government is still willing to work with Houston.

"We're clearly making some lemonade here," she said. "It's was a tough report, 200 footnotes that George and the lawyers are going to have to go through, but I'd rather be making lemonade than not having any lemons at all."

METRO has already spent about $40 million with this Spanish company, so if they have to cut the contract midway, how much of your dollars and how much of your time will go to waste? That's still yet to be seen.

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