By GILBERT HOFFMAN
Residents of the Northside, who have anxiously awaited the arrival of the METRO light rail line, and the completion of the renovated Northline Mall, had mixed news this week.
Because of a federal probe into procurement practices that now seem to have ignored guidelines, the FTA (Federal Transit Administration) has told Houston and METRO they must readvertise bids for light rail cars, to insure that the “Buy America” provisions of the contract are followed.
Until this re-procurement is accomplished, the federal government will withhold $64 million in grant funding for replacement rail cars for the existing downtown Red Line, and $50 million in engineering for the new lines, according to a letter from FTA administrator Peter Rogoff. However, in the same letter he promises $150 million in funds for the completion of the North and Southeast Corridor lines will be available if the re-procurement proceeds in an approved manner.
The dispute arose because the former CEO of METRO, Frank Wilson, executed a contract with a Spanish firm to build the new rail cars. Most of the rail cars were to be built in the U.S. in a new plant, but two prototype cars were to be built in Spain, due to scheduling. Wilson insisted he had approval from FTA for this method, but a recent audit of the contracts did not substantiate this conclusion.
As a result, METRO’s new CEO, George Grenias, announced that there will be a delay in operating the North and Southeast lines, from the original date of 2012 to a new date of 2014.
Eventually, METRO hopes to receive $900 million in federal grants to cover the cost of the four lines now in planning. Some of this money is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, meant to put workers immediately into jobs.
Walmart at Northline
Construction work on the new Super-Walmart adjacent to the Northline Commons is continuing, with an opening date set for late October, now tentively Oct. 27.
Walmart is taking job applications, and plans to hire about 300 employees. Anyone can apply for these jobs onsite, at Northline Commons, 4400 A North Freeway, Suite 100.
By GILBERT HOFFMAN