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August 6th, 2006:

More routes proposed for Universities line

In all the argument over Richmond-versus-Westpark for the route of the Universities line, I’ve been wondering why so little has been said about where a proposed Westpark line would go east of Kirby. Having now seen what that would mean, I’m not surprised no one has wanted to talk about it.

[Metro spokeswoman Sandra Salazar] said an alignment suggested by City Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck calls for the line to travel west on Richmond from Metro’s current Wheeler station near Main, turn south on Mandell or Dunlavy and follow the north side of the Southwest Freeway to Edloe, where it would cross over to Westpark and continue to the Hillcroft Transit Center.

Culberson’s suggestion, Metro said, would run “from Richmond in the vicinity of the University of St. Thomas to U.S. 59 (Southwest Freeway) to a transition point into the Westpark right-of-way.” Other details were not available.

Culberson aide Nick Swyka said the congressman was only asking Metro to look at this proposal, which Swyka said he told Culberson about after learning that Afton Oaks resident Ted Richardson had an idea for elevated rail beside the Southwest Freeway.

Because the routes would pass through Councilwoman Ada Edwards’ district, Metro said, her approval will be sought.

Metro said Clutterbuck’s proposed route would pass through the Richwood Place and Castle Court neighborhoods and “along” the city’s Ervan Chew Park at Dunlavy and Castle Court.

Laura Mullen, president of the Richwood Place Civic Association, expressed dismay at the news.

“They would be condemning properties from Dunlavy to Shepherd,” she said. “There are people who have their fences right behind the sound walls (that protect the neighborhood from freeway noise).

“Are they going through a Little League field (in Chew Park)?” she asked. “The field abuts the sound wall.

“Our neighborhood is split 50-50 on having rail on Richmond, so this is going to be quite explosive,” said Mullen, who lives on Lexington.

First things first: I don’t have a tape measure handy, but I feel pretty certain that there’s less public right of way on Mandell and Dunlavy than there is on Richmond. Frankly, I don’t know how you could squeeze in the tracks and still have any room for car traffic. There’d be no more street parking anywhere along this path, that’s for sure. I’m a little amazed that anyone might think this could work.

Second, as noted in another story, this would mean condemning 50-75 houses, according to Metro. Those houses are in Congressional District 7. Does John Culberson care any less about that than he professes to claim about the businesses on Richmond? He hasn’t commented yet.

And as that second story says, Council Member Edwards is not pleased by this.

Edwards, informed by Metro that the route proposed by Clutterback could cost her district dozens of homes, said Clutterbuck should have contacted her before presenting the idea.

“Nobody discussed it with me,” Edwards said. “The council member can call it what she wants – a plan, a directive, a good idea. But the point is that, at the end of the day, it would take homes in District D and I am against that.”

Edwards said she will be attending hastily scheduled meetings of civic clubs in her district today to discuss the proposal.

She said she did not know how residents will react.

“We have no decision on it, because we haven’t seen (the plan),” she said. “But from what we heard of it, I’m not pleased.”

As Christof pointed out from Metro’s presentation:

Between Richmond and Kirby, the right-of-way for Richmond varies from 75 feet to 81 feet. Two light rail tracks and 4 traffic lanes require 76 feet; at stations and left turn lanes 86 feet are required. Of the roughly 210 properties along this section, 30 properties would need to have a 4-8 foot strip taken off the front, 52 properties would need a 1-4 foot strip taken, and the rest – 60% – would remain intact.

Call me crazy, but that sounds like a lot less need for takings than this Clutterbuck/Culberson proposal does. And we haven’t even taken into account cost and ridership projections. I can’t see how this proposal does anything but satisfy one group of people at the expense of what looks to me to be a larger group of other people.

UPDATE: Tory proposes a Westpark alternative that sounds reasonable, though I’m still highly skeptical of a crossover at Dunlavy. Read what he suggests and see what you think.

Garcia versus Seaman: The money race

The Caller Times reports on the battle in House District 32 between Juan Garcia and incumbent Republican Rep. Gene Seaman.

Garcia, 40, a lawyer and Navy pilot, has raised $205,140.95 to Seaman’s $89,956 during the January-to-June 30 contribution period.

But Seaman, first elected in 1996, has a bigger war chest because of funds raised in previous campaign cycles. At the end of the contribution period, after campaign expenses, Seaman has $261,671.74 left to spend compared with Garcia’s $80,228.98.

Seaman, of course, was unchallenged in 2004, which gave him a nice head start on this campaign. He had $160K cash on hand in January 2005, and $266K cash on hand a year later. He’s actually spent more than he’s raised so far this year, which is why the July COH total is down a bit. So basically, if he’d had to empty his warchest as a result of being forced to run a real campaign in 2004, he’d have about $100K on hand right now, assuming he would have fundraised and spent at the same clip. Yet another reason to Run Everywhere.

To defeat Seaman, [political analyst Bob] Bezdek said, Garcia has to minimize Seaman’s strength in the predominantly Republican precincts in Nueces County and clean up in Calhoun County. He must do as well in San Patricio County as former San Patricio County Judge and conservative Democrat Josephine Miller when she ran against Seaman in 2002. Miller took 58 percent in her home county in a losing campaign. And he must make inroads in Aransas County.

“The conservative areas where he cleaned Josephine Miller’s clock, we are not going to neutralize those areas,” Garcia said. “We are going to win.”

But it’s still District 32, where President George W. Bush took 67 percent in 2004. Also, in the part of District 32 that overlaps Congressional District 27, Republican Willie Vaden took more votes than incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, who trounced Vaden overall, Bezdek noted.

Here’s the breakdown for HD32 in 2004. As I wrote before, it was less Republican in 2002, splitting 58-42 for the GOP. Seaman underperformed that baseline by over four points. Garcia will need the district to swing back a little, and he’ll need to cut into Seaman’s base. He is making progress on that front:

Garcia has more than 300 donations from individuals, including some Republicans previously in support of Seaman.

More than 100 people, mostly Republicans, showed up for a recent Garcia fundraiser at homebuilder and developer Duane Scheumack’s house in Rockport.

Scheumack voted for Seaman in his past two successful campaigns.

“I don’t think I am angry at Gene. I just don’t know what Gene has done,” Scheumack said. “The thing I was impressed with the most with Garcia is his community, home and fireside values. And I sense a great deal of sincerity with this young man.”

[…]

One issue that damaged Seaman in Aransas and San Patricio counties during his last term, is the perception that he nearly allowed the counties to be annexed into the Del Mar College taxing district without their consent.

Residents in both counties complain that Seaman was weak and would not take a stand against the Del Mar measure sponsored by former state Rep. Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi, a powerful Democrat aligned with the top Republican leadership.

After a letter-writing campaign initiated in Aransas County, Gov. Rick Perry ended up vetoing the measure.

“I am sure some people feel like he could have been stronger on that issue,” said Republican San Patricio County Commissioner Fred Nardini, a Seaman contributor. “All of us in San Patricio County fought very hard to keep that out. I don’t know at this point what the outcome will be. With most constituents it’s hard to tell whether they have a long memory.”

Aransas County resident and Republican Lynn Lee, who voted for Seaman in the past, supports Garcia.

“Del Mar was a great bit of it, yes,” Lee said. “I felt he should have taken our side because he had always gotten huge support in Aransas County. In that situation I did not think we should be voted into something where we did not have a say. I now have a feeling that Gene is not aware of what I want.”

More of that and it won’t matter what Seaman is and isn’t aware of.

Washington Ave service road halted

Via Houstonist, TxDOT’s plan to build an elevated service road between Washington and TC Jester, which was not popular with residents there, has been scrapped.

On Thursday, Mayor Bill White told residents of the Cottage Grove Civic Club that he received a fax from TxDOT Houston District Engineer Gary Trietsch stating that the department was removing the elevated lanes from its I-10 frontage lanes project.

“After analysis of our design, possible benefits and costs associated with these structures, we have concluded that we will remove these grade separations from the proposed work on the I-10 frontage roads,” Trietsch wrote in the letter, dated Aug. 3.

White said that he spoke to Trietsch earlier in the day to express his reservations about the project. The agency had proposed the 30-foot-high, two-lane frontage roads as part of a project aimed at preventing flooding like that along I-10 during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.

Residents of Cottage Grove, Woodcrest and other West End neighborhoods, however, said the $40 million project would lead to noise and air pollution in their communities. They also said the project is unnecessary for flood mitigation, as TxDOT is also planning to construct ponds along White Oak Bayou that will protect the interstate.

“What I stated to (Trietsch) was that if you’re not going to add a lot of functionality with the elevated lanes, and you’re looking at major opposition from taxpayers who live near there, then you really have to look at the cost-effectiveness of it,” White said.

It does seem to me that the flood mitigation ponds ought to be sufficient here. For sure, they ought to be cheaper. If they prove to be inadequate for the task, this issue can be revisited. Subject to further review later on, I think this was the right call.