Budget cuts could mean light rail delays

HOUSTON The so-called "new METRO" has been struggling to separate itself from the financial problems that have plagued the agency -- all calumniating to a staggering decision. Big budget cuts mean construction on what was to be a state-of-the-art light rail system is being scaled down or even paused all together.

East end business owners who found out about the news on Thursday are trying to take the news in stride. They're considering it a sign of the times.

Work on the east end light rail line will continue, but at a much slower pace. The same goes for the north and south east lines. The university and uptown lines are basically on hold at this point.

METRO is slashing its light rail expansion budget by almost 70 percent because of a shortage of money. That means it could take an additional year to finish the lines where construction is already underway.

It certainly wasn't the news that east end business owners wanted to hear. One restaurant owner told Eyewitness News sales have been down because of all the construction and customers are just not coming in like they used to.

"Sales have gone low and people don't want to stop by because they say that parking is a mess when they come in," said Lizet Melendez of Taqueria Charro.

The decision stems from METRO's financial woes. Federal funding was delayed even further last month following the Federal Transit Administration's announcement that METRO had violated American Buy rules.

However, cuts to the program are not a surprise to Bill King, who has worked on several transit councils.

"The current board that just took over was frankly left with an incredible mess," he said.

King has been a critic of some of METRO's plans and says he'll be surprised if they can finish what they've started.

"You're having to worry about utility conflicts, taking property," he said. "It's a mess to try to build a railroad in the middle of a city that's already developed."

Still, east end business owners are cautiously optimistic.

"Just hope for the best, that's all I can really say," Melendez said. "There's nothing else we can do. We can't call the City of Houston or METRO or anybody and be like, 'Stop!' Because they're not. This is City of Houston and we can't make decisions for them."

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