January 26, 2007
System overview and downtown BRT

Christof has a couple of Metro rail-related posts up, about how the overall system is shaping up, and how the Southeast BRT line will interact with the Main Street line. He's about to start doing a lot of posts related to the Universities line alignment, and how it will fit with the rest of what Metro has to offer, so get ready to read up on all this.

In related news, the Chron reports that a pair of local Congressfolk will try to help Metro fulfill its original promise from the 2003 referendum by upgrading the BRT routes with real light rail lines.

[Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green] attended the meeting at which the Metropolitan Transit Authority board approved negotiating with a team headed by Washington Group International for the $1 billion project to design and build the planned North, East End, Southeast and Uptown lines and a north side "intermodal terminal" for buses and trains.

Metro hopes federal dollars will fund half that cost, said spokeswoman Sandra Salazar, and the agency has permission to count $326 million already spent on its Main Street line toward local matching funds.

Metro CEO and President Frank Wilson reaffirmed Thursday that the agency plans to lay rails in the right-of-way, commonly called a guideway, from the outset.

And Metro has changed its terminology from BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) to GRT (Guided Rapid Transit) to include both options.

Jackson Lee said she and congressional colleagues who represent affected neighborhoods hope that "a GRT will be an LRT -- a light rail."

Board Chairman David Wolff said Jackson Lee's appointment last week to chair the transportation and infrastructure subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee gives her "a very important role to play in the future of transit all around the country and particularly in Houston."

Jackson Lee said she would meet with federal agency heads and try to expedite funding.
"The message will have to be reinforced in Washington that Houston is now serious about moving forward with a Metro system," she said. "But because of the competitiveness of federal funding and the numbers seeking federal funds, we will have to be both bipartisan and strong."

Good for them. The people voted for light rail, the people want light rail, and the people should be able to get light rail. Whoever you blame for Metro scaling these routes back from light rail to BRT GRT, it's not too late to fix those problems and do this right. I wish Reps. Jackson Lee and Green the very best of luck in getting this done.

One thing to highlight from the article:

The new Democratic edge in Congress does not guarantee success, even if Metro has support for its plans from powerful Texas Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, sits on a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee that holds transportation purse strings, and he could oppose funding for routes that deviate, in his view, from those described in the 2003 resolution approved by voters.

His aide Nick Swyka said Culberson would not comment on the projects in Wednesday's vote.

However, he said, Culberson has not changed his mind that Metro is bound by a 2003 transit referendum to build the University light rail line on Westpark and not Richmond. Contracts for that project were not on Thursday's agenda.

One might read these paragraphs and come away with the impression that it's an open question whether or not Rep. Culberson would intervene in these projects and oppose any change to their current design. That's how I read it, and needless to say I found that thought alarming. I also found it highly inconsistent with the "you don't mess with my district and I won't mess with yours" article from November. Surely, I thought, we're not about to get punked, right?

And the good news is that my impression was not correct. I called Nick Swyka, and he said that the reason Culberson did not comment on the projects in question here was precisely because he doesn't get involved, and doesn't plan to get involved, in matters like this that are not in his district. He may or may not vote for any future appropriations to Metro that Jackson Lee and/or Green may propose (I didn't ask about this, and I daresay it would have been premature for Swyka to comment anyway had I asked), but he won't try to block what they're doing. That's all I could ask, and I'm glad to hear it. One less thing to worry about.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 26, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles