It’s probably no secret that recent years have brought some huge changes at METRO… a complete scrubbing of former leadership, the formation and soon-to-be implementation of an entirely new local bus system, and the successful construction of 3 new light rail lines. For all these reasons, the METRO of today has very little in common with the agency from 6 years ago.
Even still, a few issues have haunted new leaders from the past, like the ongoing stalemate which has prevented Houston’s transit authority from receiving federal funding for two key rail projects… the beleaguered University Line down Richmond and the Uptown Line, currently planned as Bus Rapid Transit.
But as Dug Begley of the Houston Chronicle reports, agency leaders may have found a way to bring the stubborn Congressman on board with rail, or at least not continue to stand in its way…
Metro and U.S. Rep. John Culberson have called a truce in their war over a planned light rail line on Richmond Avenue, suggesting an end to an impasse that has stymied local transit development.
The announcement follows months of discussions and comes days before Metro is set to open two new rail lines serving east and southeast Houston. The Green and Purple lines open May 23, the next step in development of a light rail system that has divided Metro and many critics, notably Culberson, since voters approved it in 2003.
From his seat on the House Appropriations Committee, Culberson has stopped Metro from receiving any Federal Transit Administration funds related to rail on Richmond or a similar rail plan along Post Oak, later converted to a fixed-route bus system.
Culberson represents voters west of Shepherd along Richmond, many of whom vigorously oppose the rail line.
Recently, Culberson announced he would seek to continue cutting off the Richmond money in the next federal funding bill, but he softened his stance by saying Metro could seek money for the lines if they receive local voter support in a new election.
See here for text of the actual amendment.
Culberson has promised to allow the funding to go through if and only if voters approve the rail construction through a new ballot referendum.
But let’s be clear on what the Congressman did not promise. If a new vote occurs, rail supporters can be sure that Culberson and his group will do everything in their power to defeat the measure. The door to funding may have been cracked open, but it is far from a guarantee.
However given the previous situation, any amount of progress is worth recognition. This is a huge victory for METRO, particularly Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia. At a time when the University Line seemed all but forgotten, this move sheds light on a lot of hard work being done behind the scenes.
We’ll learn more next week in a press conference.