Metro CEO George Greanias used his "State of Metro" address to announce those agreements will be signed in a ceremony later this month. It's the first time Metro has received federal funds for rail projects. Greanias says those projects are crucial to Metro's long term plans for the region.
"That's a major step forward. It allows us to complete two lines, the North Line and the Southeast Line, which are essential parts of the long-range transit plans."
The $900 million for the projects was in danger under Metro's previous leadership. That's when the Federal Transit Administration investigated Metro for violating "Buy America" provisions. Rules state that transit vehicles for federally-funded projects have to be bought from U.S. companies. Metro was looking at buying rail cars from a Spanish firm. That issue has now been resolved. Greanias says it appears the federal government now views Metro as being committed to solving the area's mobility issues.
"For a long time I'm not sure that was the thought up there. But I think this represents a conclusion by the federal government that Metro is serious about transit and it will be a good partner, and is somebody worth investing in."
One of the projects under that grant is the northbound extension of the Red Line, which takes currently takes riders from near Reliant Stadium through the Medical Center and Museum District, and on to the northern edge of downtown. The Purple Line will take people from downtown to the University of Houston. The allocation hasn't been approved yet by Congress, but Greanias feels confident that will happen.
"We'll have a contract, and what that will do will give us a strong level of assurance that the federal government will pay out the $900 million subject to Congressional appropriation. And I think, from everyone we've talked to, from the people on Capital Hill, the appropriations for these particular grants are secure."
In his address to local business leaders, Greanias pointed to other successes. He says sales tax revenues earmarked for Metro are up, but the agency is taking a conservative approach in managing those funds. Greanias also mentioned efforts at greater transparency, as well as getting the public more involved in planning future transportation projects.
"That's the most important piece. I think everything we do could not be done effectively without good partnering with the community. I think that's the biggest single change we've made. We're reaching out and people are reaching back to us."
Along with the light rail line, Metro operates 1300 buses that pick people up at 1200 stops around the city. The agency also operates park and rides for commuters and Metrolift services for the handicapped.