Photo by Gail Delaughter/KUHF
(Houston, TX -- Gail Delaughter, KUHF) On a cold and sunny morning, construction workers in hard hats mingled with dignitaries under a tent at a northside Houston rail construction site. With the downtown skyline towering in the background, Metropolitan Transit Authority Chairman Gilbert Garcia kicked off events with a countdown and a shout of "Houston, we have liftoff."
The occasion was a signing ceremony for a first-ever agreement that brings federal dollars to Houston for rail construction. But it's something that almost didn't happen.
"Let's remember that a little more than a year ago, we almost had to stop this project dead in its tracks, said Federal Transit Administration chief Peter Rogoff, referring to controversies during the transit authority's previous leadership. The agency was investigated for violating "Buy America" provisions by purchasing rail cars from a Spanish firm. Rules state that transit vehicles for federally-funded projects have to be bought from U.S. companies. That issue and others have now been resolved.
"Really the last year has been extraordinary productive in getting the kind of transparency and clarity on fiscal controls that made us very comfortable investing taxpayer dollars in this project," Rogoff said.
Metro has already been given $250 million of that money. It will fund a five-mile northward expansion of the Red Line, the only light rail line currently in operation in Houston. The money will also pay for the Purple Line, a seven-mile route that runs from downtown to the southeast.
This is going to bring hundreds of jobs in construction of the rail. Those are good-paying jobs. They will help sustain our community. But once it's complete, it will also move people to their jobs and from their jobs," said Mayor Annise Parker
A third line is also being constructed — that's the Green Line, and it's funded with local money. The trains are set to start running in 2014.