METRO Houston decides against federal grant for University Corridor Project

METRO Houston has announced its decision to forego pursuing a federal grant application for the University Corridor Project, citing financial concerns and a need to prioritize essential services. 

The decision comes after METRO's financial review revealed challenges from reduced ridership and increased costs exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The issues were discussed in the June 18 strategic planning meeting agenda. 

SUGGESTED: TRAFFIC ALERT: Multiple roadways, ramps along Beltway 8 to be CLOSED for the weekend

The project, envisioned as the nation’s largest connected bus rapid transit line spanning over 25 miles, aimed to link major job centers and universities across Houston. 

Despite being a cornerstone of METRO’s future plans, the estimated $1.5 billion project cost posed significant financial strain. METRO Chair Elizabeth González Brock emphasized that the federal grant would not cover the entire liability, potentially impacting day-to-day operations and essential services such as public safety and transit frequency.

"Our priority is to maintain a safe, reliable, and accessible transit system," stated Brock. "While we recognize the importance of the University Corridor Project, our decision reflects a commitment to safeguarding METRO’s operational integrity and enhancing overall system ridership."

The Federal Transit Administration communicated that METRO remains eligible to reapply for funding in the future should the project demonstrate financial viability. METRO plans to focus instead on proof of concept and more feasible infrastructure projects, like the Gulfton Transit and Revitalization Project. 

However, the decision has sparked opposition from the community, including LINK Houston, the non-profit organization advocating for the project. Their executive director argues that abandoning the federal grant jeopardizes years of planning and community feedback. 

Critics highlight the project’s role in connecting major city hubs and its potential impact on future events like the World Cup, where Houston will host matches in just two years. They argue that without a robust transit system, Houston risks its global standing as a world-class city.

"METRO's financial outlook is self-made," said Executive Director Gabe Cazares. "This is not a nothing or all project. As an agency that's focusing on customer service, I am surprised that METRO is not choosing to listen to the voters and the customers they serve, who support this project."

You can learn more about the now-shelved plans for METRO in their published plans from 2021 here.