April 13, 2006
Culberson's mind is made up on Richmond rail

I don't quite understand why Rep. John Culberson is bothering to attend any of the town hall meetings on the Universities rail line when he's made it perfectly clear that his mind is made up about it.

Culberson said his impression is that opposition from homeowners and businesses becomes strong west of Mandell Street in the Museum District.

When a resident who lives near Weslayan and Richmond objected to the line, Culberson replied, "I think you folks west of Shepherd ought to rest easy."

"If a majority is opposed, I'm going to be there for them," he told the crowd of about 900 at Rice University.

"Metro has to come through my committee," said Culberson, the only Texan on the House Appropriation Committee's transportation subcommittee.

I have two questions for Mister Culberson:

1. How will you know if a majority is opposed? Counting hands at a hearing, where the audience is not a representative sample of the affected area as a whole, is not valid. And for what it's worth, a friend who attended last night's meeting at Rice told me that she thought the crowd was fairly evenly divided among Richmond supporters and opponents. So what method do you have in mind for determining what the majority wants, sir?

2. If I'm parsing his words correctly, Culberson seems to be in favor of (or at least not yet opposed to) putting the rail line on Richmond from downtown to approximately Shepherd Drive, then jogging south to the Westpark right of way (Westpark itself does not begin until Kirby, so the first quarter mile or so of this will go through a non-road area, including an auto dealership). How exactly do you think the Richmond part of the line should link up with the Westpark part? Running it down Shepherd/Greenbriar? I'm trying to imagine a world in which that would make sense. What's your plan here, sir?

Of course, if we let Metro do its study without any pressure to come to a preapproved solution, then maybe we can find out some answers to questions like these. In the meantime, I'd like to know what answers Rep. Culberson has in mind.

Meanwhile, there's some supplemental coverage of the City Council district meetings from before the Rice town hall. This story from two of the District C meetings shows that some people are not considering the big picture.

Residents who live along Richmond are worried not only about potential right-of-way acquisition, but also about how placing the line on Richmond will affect access to their neighborhoods.

Robert McClain, a business owner on Richmond and a resident of the Colquitt Court neighborhood, said the placement of the line along Richmond would not only place a major burden on business owners, but would have negative long-term effects on the area as well.

"I'm sure developers are excited about the Richmond rail," McClain said. "Rail is a magnet for high-density residential development. This looks like a classic land grab. Real estate interests always trump neighborhood protection."

[Metro president and CEO Frank] Wilson said residential development is going to occur along the University Corridor with or without a rail line.

"You are blessed and cursed by the same thing and that's location," he said. "Two thousand people a week are coming to this city. You're going to get developments and apartment units in your area whether Metro comes or not. But public transportation can help with the traffic and the parking issues that come with that."

Wilson is exactly right. That stretch of Richmond between Kirby and Montrose is too underdeveloped and too close to some truly valuable real estate to not become some very hot property in the near future. Look at all the comparable main east-west arteries near Richmond - Bissonet, Alabama, and Westheimer - and you see just how much Richmond lags behind. In a market like Houston, that just isn't a stable situation. Given how little spare capacity Richmond has now for vehicle traffic, the choice residents have there isn't rail or no rail. It's rail or street widening. You can deal with Metro now or TxDOT later. There is no third option.

Finally, I'll link to this article on a similar meeting in District D to note that Robert McLane/McClain gets himself around, though he needs to do a better job of spelling his name for reporters. Could we maybe get some quotes from other folks, too? Thanks.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 13, 2006 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

My voter registration card says I'm in 7.

Bye bye, Johnny.

Posted by: Laurence Simon on April 13, 2006 3:40 PM

I went to this. For what it's worth, I thought that opponents to rail on Richmond were about 2/3 - 3/4 of the audience. I also thought that Culberson blatantly had his mind made up. He began his remarks by talking about how METRO was obligated to build on Westpark, and repeatedly sought input (a show of hands, applause, comments) from opponents of Richmond, without asking for supporters of Richmond.

Posted by: Ted Barlow on April 13, 2006 4:03 PM

For the record, his name is McClain. He's an art gallery owner on Richmond.

And he spoke last night as well.

Posted by: trm on April 13, 2006 4:20 PM

I thought it looked more like a 60-40 split for the anti-Richmond crowd. And Culberson did earn himself some catcalls when he asked only for people who live or work along Richmond to make comments.

Overall this was the most contentious of the meetings I've attended. The crowd was in no mood to hear Culberson's introductory comments, which took a while. A number of speakers were interrupted by cheers and boos. For some reason some speakers also veered off and started talking about Iraq and budget deficits and the like.

At one point Robin from the CTC asked Culberson if he would commit to conducting another meeting after the Metro studies were done later this year. He basically just said that he holds meetings all the time.

Posted by: trm on April 13, 2006 4:26 PM

Here is a link to what Butch wrote in 2003:


Posted by: Tom Bazan on April 13, 2006 8:22 PM

Would certainly concur that the Rice crowd was 65/35 anti-rail on Richmond, and that Culberson had concluded that rail should not be on Richmond west of Kirby. Of course, if you believe in the very clear 2003 ballot language (and not in Metro's creative belief that a footnote not even on the ballot allows them to put it whereever it pleases), you're going to look for a clear change in view from people directly affected to support a change. That view doesn't exist. You want a better polling system than town hall meetings and letters .. a new vote would be it. Go ahead and take a re-vote on rail -- I dare you! And this from someone who really would like to find a way to make rail work....

What no one wants to admit is that to do the University line right without screwing overall mobility up totally, you'd have to keep all lanes of Richmond open inside Kirby/Shepherd, condemn 40'+ on one side or the other all the way from Main to that point (paying to relocate businesses), run it thru a tunnel under 59 near Kirby, build a way to access Greenway Plaza from Westpark, and continue running the line along Westpark to a new connection point at Post Oak to connect with the Galleria BRT line. That's expensive, but it's the safest and most effective way to do it, at least if you believe rail matters that much.

Posted by: MW on April 13, 2006 10:07 PM

Of course Culberson's mind is made up. Last year, he & DeLay went to METRO & promised to get federal funding IF METRO went from UH to Galleria by Richmond first. The plan then was to do North Main first, an area where majority of residents were aching for a rail line. Now the next rail line will go thru an area with strong opposition to it. Culberson can kill this plan & claim Hey I'm just listening to my constituents. He stops the momentum of METRORail, & might even be able even to kill a successful rail system in Houston. Remember, he is proud of the Katy Fwy expansion, so I don't doubt he is a roads only idealogue. He needs to be called on how duplicious this is.

Posted by: Rick Potthoff on April 13, 2006 10:26 PM

The North BRT line will be open at more or less the same time as the Universities line (perhaps a year earlier, perhaps a year later). And the phase II implementation plan -- which extended the Universities line to Hobby -- actually added service to the Third Ward. Yes, some of the lines will be BRT now instead of LRT. But if METRO builds what they're showing us, that BRT service will be as fast, as frequent, as reliable, and as convenient as LRT. Those of us who are pushing METRO to do the Universities Line right are pushing for that, too.

The ballot language wasn't "clear" on Westpark. Take a look at my blog to jog your memory.

Does METRO need to take 40' of property? Only at stations, maybe. Two tracks take up roughly two lanes, or 27 feet. And almost everywhere along Richmond -- even the east end -- there's at least some space left in the right-of-way. West of Kirby, the right of way is much wider -- rail through Greenway Plaza would be pretty easy without taking traffic lanes or buildings. I've seen enough other cities to know that rail on Richmond is possible. But we need to wait for METRO's study to quantify what it involves.

Posted by: Christof Spieler on April 14, 2006 7:56 AM