August 24, 2003
Rail update

Earlier this week, the Metro board gave final approval to a light rail extension plan that will be on the ballot this November. After much talk and several proposals to put in rail all over the place, the final proposal only calls for 22 more miles. A good graphical overview is here, along with who voted for what.

I can tell you that rail proponents are not very happy with this. There were several upset messages posted to a mailing list I'm on. For me personally, the fact that there won't be a line built along I-10 means that there won't be any rail within walking distance of my house, making the system fairly useless to me. (The proposed commuter rail line that would come in along US 290 may still be useful to me, if it ever gets built.)

I'm a half-a-loaf kind of guy. If this plan, which was identical to the more ambitious plans for the first few years anyway, is the most likely one to survive a voter referendum, I'll take it. If I've interpreted Metro board chair Arthur Schecter's buzzword-filled op-ed correctly, we'll be voting again on more rail in 2009, hopefully after people have become acclimated to its existence and more convinced of its utility. I can live with that, especially if the alternative is a glorious yet devastating defeat.

That said, I'm disappointed. I'm tired of having to placate the pigheaded business "leaders" who think that roads are the only option. I'm tired of Congressmen who've probably never taken public transportation in their lives. Who does John Culberson think he's kidding here?

Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, who sits on the House transportation appropriations subcommittee, urged the board to postpone the Nov. 4 referendum. Culberson said the public and elected officials need more time to study the plan.

A November vote, he said, would "leave me with no other option but to oppose what you would force upon us."

To Culberson's comments, Schechter later responded "some of you have been hard at work in Washington" and probably were unaware that Metro had held extensive public meetings and discussions with elected officials in drafting the plan during the last two years.


I would like, once and for all, for our city's leaders to make their case and sell this solution. I wish they'd been more bold in their vision, but a baby step forward is still better than no step forward.

Of course, now I'm worried that the true supporters of rail may be tempted to vote against this proposal on the grounds that it's not worthy of their support. I totally understand that position, but it feels more than a little Naderesque to me. Voting this proposal down isn't going to convince anyone that it failed because it was too little. The nattering naysayers will claim their victory, and that will be that.

I don't believe we'll get another opportunity as good as this one. It's now or never. Get this thing started, and we'll expand on it later. It's not the best of all worlds, but it's the best we can do right now.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 24, 2003 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

Culberson's not going to support a rail proposal no matter what Metro does, so it's kind of an empty threat, or empty carrot, depending on which way you look at it.

None of the current plan will benefit me either, but it's still a first step to something that will benefit me. I'll take the half-loaf too. $DEITY knows it can hardly be worse or more wasteful than the highway mess they're already planning for I-10 to placate Culberson's consitutents (among others).

Posted by: Ginger on August 24, 2003 4:31 PM

I'm with Berry on this one... No plan that includes more rail is going to impress me. More HOV lanes and toll roads will reduce traffic congestion; they have a solid record of doing so. Rail simply doesn't, and until Metro understands this, I see no reason to support their transit plans even if they are scaled back.

I'm just upset that neither Metro nor rail proponents have ever felt the need to make a case for light rail transit. All I've seen from the Chronicle are rantings about how we need to become a 'world class city' and how rail has been 'wildy popular' in Dallas. The former are meaningless and the latter claim is highly suspect.

And as informative as you are on other issues, Charles, I've never seen you make a good case for rail from a public policy standpoint. I've noted, for example, than Metro's own transit studies show that a Katy-to-downtown line wouldn't be cost-effective, which is odd because they have shown interest in building rail there. The numbers show that a solid majority of commuters aren't going to downtown, but instead to other major business centers. New York this isn't.

And why no discussion of BRT? Houston is spread out and has highly fluid development patterns, factors which make BRT a far better option than rail since bus lines are far more flexible. You don't have to put in or tear out tracks. Buses also move faster and are less expensive. So what's the deal? Is rail an end in and of itself with rail supporters?

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on August 24, 2003 8:16 PM

I was really looking forward to that I-10 route as well. The kicker for me was the ending of the Uptown Route.

With those two gone, Metro Rail is useless to me now. BUT, I still support it without hesitation.

Posted by: KungPaoCajun on June 2, 2004 5:23 PM