Securing federal funding for what would have been the longest bus rapid transit project in the U.S. has officially reached a standstill as officials with the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County announced in a June 18 news release they will not proceed with the federal grant application for the University Corridor Project at this time.

New METRO Chair Elizabeth González Brock said in a news release their priority is a public transit system that is safe, clean, reliable and accessible.

"METRO's decision to not proceed with the federal grant process at this time is based upon the need to prioritize improved customer and community essential services, and will better position the Authority to increase overall system ridership," Brock said.

The details

The University Corridor Project was part of the METRONext plan, a $7 billion plan first initiated in 2019 that was to be carried out over the next 20 years with a mix of local funding from a $3.5 billion bond referendum passed in 2019 and federal funds.

The University Corridor consisted of about 25 miles in total. Starting from the Westchase Park & Ride facility on Harwin Drive, the proposed route would head east toward the University of Houston in the Third Ward, at which point it would veer north to a terminus at the Tidwell Transit Center off Hwy. 59.

The bottom line

METRO officials cited financial viability as having an impact on their decision.

Officials said the financial estimates for the project when it was originally discussed among METRO executive staff members in 2019 were "aspirational," but various factors were not calculated at the time the project was proposed, including how the COVID-19 pandemic "significantly reduced ridership" as well as overall increased costs.

"This project, as planned, would put the agency in a position that would financially impact METRO's day-to-day operations and severely limit the ability to implement essential services, such as increased public safety, bus frequency, bus and train cleanliness, improved bus shelters, and enhanced sidewalks and roadways, since the federal grant does not cover the estimated $1.5 billion liability," the statement reads.

Going forward

Other "more viable infrastructure projects that are part of the overall growth and development plans for the entire community will move forward," according to the news release, including the Gulfton Transit and Revitalization Project. More on the Gulfton project can be found here.

While the decision for METRO not to pursue federal funding has been taken, officials said the Federal Transit Administration has communicated with METRO's executive staff that they will not be precluded from applying for funding at a later date.

“We will continue to engage with METRO customers, community leaders and key stakeholders as we review the viability of future projects and initiatives,” Brock said.

On the other hand

Members of the transportation nonprofit LINK Houston took to social media to express their concern with METRO's decision.

"METRO announced their intention to not proceed with the federal grant application for the University Corridor Project in opposition to the will of 68% of Houston voters who approved the METRONext Moving Forward Plan in 2019. This was done without action by the board of directors. To put it plainly, this is unacceptable," the organization stated on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Shawn Arrajj contributed to this report.