Rail Contract Means Better Transit, Jobs for Houston

Metro moves forward with its ambitious light rail plan. In a unanimous vote, the transit board approved a contract for four rail lines that will cost almost 1.5-billion dollars. But it will create 60-thousand jobs. Pat Hernandez has more.

The historic contract is the largest public works project ever taken in the city. The construction of the East End, North, Southeast and Uptown rail lines will add an additional 20-miles to the existing Main Street line. Metro Board Chairman David Wolff commented before vote was taken.

“Today is obviously a very significant milestone in our building of the Metro Solutions program. This contract has been five years in the making. It’s the culmination of many, many hours of hard work, persistence and commitment on the part of our staff and on the part of this board of directors. Our objective is to improve transit in Houston beginning with the 2003 referendum.”

The contract with California based Parsons Transportation Group is worth 1.46 billion dollars. It will create 60-thousand jobs, mostly in construction. Wolf says there are four phases to the project.

“The first thing you have to do is go into a right-of-way and relocate, repair or build new utilities. The second phase is to go in and widen the roadways, so if the four lane road  and you’re going to take the middle two lanes for light rail, you’ve got to build two flanking roads on each side. The third phase is actually the construction of the rail. And then fourth, you come in and do all the finishing, the landscaping, the stations, the signage and what have you.”

Up until the vote, Metro had refused to divulge specific details, like the terms of the contract, or the final cost of the project. Houston City Councilmember Jolanda Jones appeared before the board.

“I think the plan is ambitious. I’m absolutely looking forward to 60-thousand jobs being created. But I think Metro needs to do a much better job with communicating with citizens, because it is taxpayer money, and citizens deserve meaningful input before any decisions or contracts are made or signed.”

Chairman Wolff: “Well, I can tell you personally that probably within the last 24-hours, we’ve saved 30-million dollars and I think our responsibility is for the people who are paying these dollars. I’ll fight for the public and take the flak from the media.”

Mayor Bill White defended the transit agency’s tactic.

“There are some many details of this which has been discussed so long, including public meetings before 2003 and numerous public meetings, and during the time of the referendum, and numerous public meetings after 2003 that affect the routing of lines, and it’s more a matter of some of these contractual details.”

The initial phase of the contract calls for spending 632-million dollars and is expected to create 25-thousand jobs. The new light rail lines should be complete in three years.

Pat Hernandez, KUHF…Houston Public Radio News.