Who Lied During The Dispute Over How Much The New Rail Lines Would Cost? Maybe No One

We may finally have some answers to the questions that emerged after it was reported that Metro lied about the cost of two proposed light rail corridors.

During a Metro meeting in April, Houstonian Paul Magaziner told the board that the projects would cost $1.8 billion. Frank Wilson, Metro's president, told Magaziner that those numbers were "extremely exaggerated."

But according to documents from the Federal Transit Administration -- obtained by Hair Balls today -- Metro is seeking federal funding agreements that equal $1.58 billion for the North and Southeast corridors.

That's about $761 million more than the cost listed on the contract Metro signed in March, but we don't think you can call Metro liars. Misleading maybe, and Metro officials certainly could have explained better, but they didn't necessarly lie.

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Here's why:

If Metro is awarded its full funding agreement, it will receive $900 million from the feds for the two projects, leaving Metro on the hook for $679 million. If you add the money Metro was awarded in the 2010 Presidential Budget, then the total jumps to $830 million, the figure listed in the Metro contract. That makes the grand total $1.73 billion, expaining Magaziner's estimate.

The new numbers come from two letters from the FTA informing Metro that it can move into the Final Design phase for the two corridors. According to FTA documents, that allows Metro to start with "utility relocation, development of detailed specifications, preparation of final construction plans, development of construction cost estimates, and development and/or solicitation of bid documents."

A press release from Metro says the approval "signals the federal government's commitment to fund its part of the projects." A representative from the FTA wouldn't speculate if or when Metro would get the funding, but only said, via e-mail, "The FTA is working with Houston Metro toward a full funding agreement."

Update: We heard back from Metro spokeswoman Raequel Roberts, and she informed us that we were wrong about one thing. The $150 million from the Presidential Budget was included in the FTA's total cost estimate, so the grand total is $1.58 billion, not $1.73 billion.

Roberts also said, via e-mail, that the FTA estimate includes "debt service, escalation, administrative costs, the purchase of additional rail cars (which we won't need for some time)." So, those things aren't included in $830 million that Metro is paying Parsons for the North and Southeast corridors.

We also asked Roberts about the $632 million that Metro is initially spending on the Parsons contract, and she told us that Metro has secured $270 million in financing from a variety of sources. "We will secure the rest as we advance the project," Roberts said.

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