As county judge, I pledge to use every tool at my disposal to demand that METRO either (1) adhere to the clear terms of the 2003 Referendum, or (2) take a revised plan to the voters for their consent.
Thanks for your interest in my position and the opportunity to comment.
When I say I want METRO to honor the November 2003 ballot, let me first direct your attention to Page 8, Section 14 of the attached Resolution No. 2003-77 where it states " ... the following agreements will be binding on METRO and will constitute contracts with the voters in accordance with the terms and may not be repealed, altered or rescinded by any succeeding Board without voter approval at a subsequent election."
Now, in light of this clear language, let me then ask you to consider the fact that METRO has changed each of the routes that appear on the 2003 ballot including the North Hardy route, Southeast route, Harrisburg route and the Westpark route. The "Westpark" route, of course, has received the most attention because the word "Richmond" is never mentioned on the ballot -- and now they want to build a significant chunk of the Westpark route going down Richmond. Most reasonable people can and should agree that this is a big enough change or new development to warrant voter approval.
Like many others, I am also deeply concerned that METRO seems intent on building a line that runs down Richmond despite a recently uncovered City of Houston report which warns of serious structural risks to a 66-inch water pipe under the street that services over 2,000,000 Houstonians.
My other concerns include:
- In Exhibit A of this 2003 resolution, METRO promises 44 new bus routes and a total of 50 percent more bus service. Since 2003, however, METRO has violated this agreement by canceling approximately 30 percent of their bus service.
- METRO owes City of Houston and Harris County hundreds of millions of dollars in General Mobility Funds. METRO promised to pay contributing Cities and Counties 25 percent of the 1-cent sales tax they collect for street improvements. METRO continues to dance around this financial liability stating that it must pay only when the job is "completed."
- METRO is required to get federal approval BEFORE they begin construction on all but one of the Light Rail routes. In November of 2007, however, the Federal Transit Administration denied METRO the opportunity for funding on two of their routes.
- The 2003 resolution states very clearly that METRO can only borrow $640 million in bonds; yet, construction costs have skyrocketed in the past five years -- and like many, I am doubtful that METRO can pay for this construction on 2003 estimates. As if to emphasize my point, DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) has had to cancel a line form Irving to Dallas because DART has just surmised that the 2005 construction estimate of roughly $900 million has doubled to $1.8 billion. Obviously, METRO's construction costs have endured similar increases, but we have yet to have an honest public review of METRO's current constructions costs.
- I am suspicious as to why METRO is starting to develop strip centers, hotels and condos. They should stick to the transportation business, and leave the real estate ventures to others.
- Many believe METRO has been reporting false data concerning their ridership. I am troubled that METRO continues to refuse to divulge their fare box, which would be a truer measure of their performance.
To sum it up, Charles, if METRO's agreement with the voters was subject to the same rules as a private contract, it would have been declared null and void some time ago. How can any local leader stand idly by while one provision after another of this "contract with the voters" is ignored or, in some case, outright violated? METRO may have sound reasons for why they have drastically altered the plan from the way it was presented to voters in 2003; but in my view, they must honor their clearly worded agreement and go back and seek voter approval.
Long story short: since METRO went back to the drawing board, they must go back to the voters.
Good luck with the blog!