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October 13th, 2004:

Record rail ridership and the Westpark Tollway

Light rail ridership continues to increase.

Average weekday boardings on the Main Street line, which opened Jan. 1, were 32,292 last month, according to Metropolitan Transit Authority data. That’s the first time the average count has topped 30,000. Daily ridership has steadily climbed since the 12,102 recorded in January, thanks mostly to changes made to connect bus routes with the trains.

Total ridership for September was 817,020, also a record high, Metro reported.

The light rail carried its second-highest passenger load Sept. 2, when the Houston Texans played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a preseason game at Reliant Stadium.

That day’s count of 42,488 boardings was excluded from the average daily tabulations because the special event could skew the numbers, according to Metro.

That’s good, and I hope they keep it up. The next lines are going to start getting built soon, and the more people are using rail now, the faster those lines will see ridership increase.

While we’re on the subject of new transportation options, I wondered how ridership on the rail line compares to that of the new Westpark toll road. Turns out that information is hard to find. I posted a question asking what the ridership numbers were and how they compared to projections on the Katy Corridor Coalition Yahoo group, and got this response from Polly Ledvina:

HCTRA is really difficult to pry information from. I made a phone call to their general information number (832-601-7800) and asked about the ridership on Westpark. I was transferred to “Public Information” where I was told that there have been 641,307 “transactions” for the period of Sep 18 – Oct 3rd (this apparently covers the period since it was extended to highway 6). I asked how this number of transactions compares to projected numbers. The HCTRA representative did not know the answer to that question or where I could find out. I was also told that there are no sites on the internet that you can link to for ridership information.

Which leads to a question: Why is it that Metro makes its rail numbers public, but the Harris County Toll Road Authority doesn’t? Aren’t they both public entities? The Westpark toll road uses EZTags exclusively, so we should have an exact count available to us. Why isn’t it public knowledge?

Breaking that transactions number down, I’m told (having never driven on this road) that it’s common to have multiple transactions per trip. So 640,000 transactions over 16 days is 40,000 per day, which may represent 20,000 or 30,000 actual cars per day. That number should of course also be readily available to us, since each EZTag is uniquely identifiable, but it’s not.

There’s still the question of how the road is doing versus how people thought it would do. This Houston Press article from 1998 sheds a little bit of light.

By now, if businessman Jim Murphy’s dream had come true, more than 81,000 cars a day would be using a toll road stretching nearly 13 miles from Shepherd and U.S. 59 out to the Sam Houston Tollway. Those 81,000 cars would be bypassing the clogged surface roads on a high-tech tollway where no one would have to stop to hand money over to a booth attendant and where the prices charged would vary according to the number of riders per car and the time of day.

[…]

[Metro board chairman Robert] Miller isn’t sure the proposed toll road will work. Much of the $350 million or so needed for construction would come from revenue bonds; the number of bonds that could be sold depends on traffic projections done by an independent financial firm.

That study is not yet complete. “I haven’t seen it,” Miller says, “but my understanding is that it does not show a high degree of ridership.”

It’s not an official figure, but 81,000 is still a lot more than 40,000, and that’s the high end of actual use. Was Miller right to be a skeptic? Note also that while the road doesn’t extend inside the Loop, it does go all the way out to Highway 6. So was this irrational exuberance or not? I just want to see some data. What do you say, HCTRA?

On the subject of uninformative bylines

Kevin and Anne have been asking questions about the Chron’s policy regarding bylines on submitted op-ed pieces, a subject I’ve ranted about in the past. What I think the op-ed page editor of the Chron – or any newspaper – owes us is what Anne did: a quick Google search on the author’s name to see if he or she is being disingenuous about self-identification. What they do from there is something we can argue about, but anything that cuts down on the number of misleading bylines – asking for an edit from the author, amending the byline as they see fit, adding an editor’s note with additional information – would be an improvement in my opinion. I think we have a right to know when an op-ed writer is more than just a disinterested observer, and I think they have an obligation to tell us. And that goes for letters to the editor, too.

Somewhat Raucous Kitchen

For a long time, my friend Margo has sent out emails describing her adventures as a Russian teacher, amateur chef, martial arts student, and wandering gadfly. Some months back, I replied to one of her missives and suggested that she start a blog, as that would be a much better way to archive her writings. Yesterday she wrote back to tell me that she’d finally taken my advice. She’s now producing a “collection of silly essays often involving food”, and as a special bonus for you tractor fans, her first post includes a visit to the Red Power Roundup in Iowa this summer. So drop by and check it out, and tell her I said Hi.

Endorsement watch: Judges, JPs, and constables

Since I brought up the Chron’s extremely lackadaisical endorsement pace in the previous post, I may as well check in and see who they’ve supported so far. On Monday, in an editorial I can no longer find online (grrr), the Chron supported all the incumbents in the Court of Criminal Appeals races. Yesterday, they endorsed all the incumbents in the Justice of the Peace and Constable elections, plus Dean Dozen candidate May Walker in the open Constable Precinct 7 race. I didn’t prognosticate any of these races, but I continue to feel confident about the overall nature of the Chron’s selections.

In case you’re curious, a running tally of newspaper Presidential endorsements is here. Kerry currently leads in total nods as well as total circulation of the endorsing papers, but many major papers, including all of the big Texas dailies, have not gone on the record yet. Also, Kerry has picked up the support of four papers that touted Bush in 2000, while so for no former Gore backers have switched sides.

UPDATE Kevin supplies the Monday Chron endorsement editorial and gives me a good reason to finally accept that Gmail invitation that’s sitting in my inbox. Thanks, Kevin!

Dallas confusion and other Congressional news

Apparently, a lot of Dallasites don’t know what Congressional district they’re in.

Thanks to Texas congressional redistricting, Williamson Road in East Dallas’ Lakewood is the superhighway to confusion.

From Mockingbird Lane, you can drive a mile down Williamson and cross congressional district lines three times – from the newly redrawn 32nd District into the 5th District, then back into the 32nd, then into the 5th again. “It’s insane,” said Kevin Petters, a Williamson Road resident who today lives in the 5th District but will vote Nov. 2 in the new 32nd District – for U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas. “We live on a weird, weird street. I thought it was all one district. I had no idea.”

Neither do many of his neighbors, some of whom believe they’ll be voting in one of the nation’s most contentious and expensive congressional races: the 32nd District match-up between Mr. Frost and four-term U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas.

In reality, they’ll be voting in the 5th District race between U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, who faces the relatively unknown Democrat Bill Bernstein.

[…]

“Until about a week ago, I thought I was going to get to choose between Martin Frost and Pete Sessions. But apparently not,” said Kate Wagner, a resident of Springside Lane, which falls within the 5th District – about a block away from the 32nd District line.

“I had to go back through all the issues, revisit Web sites, learn about two new candidates,” Ms. Wagner said. “It’s frustrating a little bit; it’s pretty confusing. And it seems a lot of my neighbors feel the same way, too.”

Another half-dozen Williamson, Springside and Yosemite residents who didn’t want their names published acknowledged that they didn’t know the names of the candidates for either district. Four correctly named their current congressman.

The line dividing the two new districts is anything but straight.

At some points, the districts dramatically snake in and out of each other, making it possible for a golfer to tee up a ball in the 32nd District and whack it with a 4-iron back into the 32nd – clear over a sliver of the 5th.

Frost and Sessions lawn signs are planted in lawns that fall outside their district, and to a lesser degree, Hensarling signs pop up outside of his district. Mr. Hensarling and Mr. Sessions, incidentally, live in Lakewood, only a couple of blocks away from each other’s district.

I see a little bit of confusion around here in my neighborhood in Sheila Jackson Lee’s CD18 as well, mostly in the form of John Martinez signs. Oddly enough, I also see a nontrivial number of Jim Dougherty signs, even though this is Jessica Farrar’s district. There could be some misunderstanding as to where the lines are in the former case – the redrawn CD07 boundary is maybe a mile and a half south of my house – but not in the latter, since the State House districts are the same as in 2001. Since neither Lee nor Farrar are seriously challenged, I can only presume the sign-displayers are hoping to reach out to visitors passing through.

Also turns out that quite a few of those Dallas folks are also unhappy with the new Congressional borders and many of them blame Tom DeLay for it. Who’d have ever guessed that?

And to complete a Dallas trifecta, here’s a good story on how the Martin Frost campaign is going.

“I didn’t think Martin would simply quit, but he’s running really hard,” said state Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, who is running for Mr. Frost’s current congressional seat, the 24th District. “Martin is one of the best campaigners around, a very skillful campaigner. Now I can’t get anyone to talk to me about my race because everyone wants to talk about the Frost-Sessions race.”

“Pete has run a strong campaign and should win,” said state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, a key player in Texas’ 2003 congressional redistricting process that left Mr. Frost without a Democrat-friendly district in which to run. He officially challenged Mr. Sessions in January.

“But yeah, we’re seeing an awful lot of Frost signs around,” Mr. Branch said. “Our worry is that he’s going to bring out a lot of Democratic support that didn’t come out in 2002.”

Go get ’em, Martin.

Byron notes this Statesman article about the state of the race between Chet Edwards and Arlene Wohlgemuth.

U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, one of five House Democrats from Texas marked for political death by redistricting, jogs along this town’s founders day parade, clasping hands with so many voters wearing “Chet” buttons that you can see why his party hopes for an election-day surprise.

Conventional wisdom in Washington has also smiled upon Edwards, giving the Waco Democrat the best odds of spoiling the Republicans’ redistricting party.

The charismatic Edwards has more money, experience and cross-party support than his opponent. He has an energized campaign and a challenger with exploitable weaknesses.

But before Democrats celebrate, they better consider that challenger. Arlene Wohlgemuth is a no-nonsense conservative running in a new district that votes 2-to-1 Republican. She has support from President Bush and the Club for Growth, an anti-tax powerhouse that has sent her about $390,000 in contributions from supporters, and that doesn’t count extensive TV ad buys.

One somewhat below-the-radar issue in this race is water pollution in Lake Waco.

Questions about Lake Waco’s water quality have been a campaign issue. The problem stems from dairy farms not far away from the lake. The operations have helped the local economy, but dairy cows produce lots of you know what. And some of it has ended up washing into tributaries that feed into the lake, which Waco-area residents use for water.

The problem got so bad several years ago that the Legislature intervened. Waco officials, the dairy operators and state lawmakers agreed on a pact in 2001 to deal with the problem.

As a member of the Legislature, Ms. Wohlgemuth participated in those negotiations. But some Waco folks thought she was too soft on the dairy farmers. The critics included her Republican opponent in this year’s primary, Dot Snyder. She ran ads with a cow bellowing Ms. Wohlgemuth’s name. (Don’t you love politics?)

Democrat Edwards has pressed the issue, too. It’s not the campaign’s central point, but it matters. When former Waco Mayor Linda Ethridge endorsed Mr. Edwards, she cited Ms. Wohlgemuth’s opposition to Waco’s work to clean up its lake. For her part, Rep. Wohlgemuth says she was only trying to strike a balance between competing interests.

This isn’t related to Congressional races at all, but did you know that the Star Telegram’s Elections index page links to several blogs written by Knight-Ridder reporters? That’s pretty cool, especially if you need to know what the various Presidential daughters are up to today. Oh, and they’ve even noticed that there’s a statewide election going on this year, too.

Back to Dallas, or to the Morning News in any case, for a bit of coverage of the DeLay-Richard Morrison race.

“He is very strong out here,” said Ralph Hennie, a high school teacher. “There are a lot of Republicans just like him – very powerful, very in-charge guys.”

[…]

“Our area has prospered under DeLay,” said Mr. Hennie, 58.

Mr. DeLay’s Democratic challenger, Richard Morrison, disagrees. Mr. Morrison, a lawyer, argued that Mr. DeLay’s recent troubles are proof that the majority leader is a relentlessly partisan and unethical lawmaker.

[…]

As that news has spread, Mr. Morrison said, his daily fund-raising totals have doubled.

“So far, it’s been really good,” Mr. Morrison said. “Two days is certainly not a trend. But if it continues, that’s awesome.”

[…]

Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace said Mr. DeLay remains a popular figure, owing to his commitment to the district and his community service.

“Politics is playing a great role in these issues [in Washington and Austin],” Mr. Wallace said. “That is the general feeling you have talking to the constituents.”

At the Baker Street Pub and Grill, a new restaurant close to City Hall, several GOP voters said they were paying attention to the controversies but still supported Mr. DeLay.

“He’s done good for the county,” said Roger Gulick, a 61-year-old engineer. “I don’t think he’d let himself hang out like that.”

Even those who said they dislike the majority leader’s aggressive style say they will probably vote for him in November.

Mr. Hennie, the high school teacher, said he once dealt with Mr. DeLay and left with the impression that Mr. DeLay was “very dictatorial.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Hennie and his wife, Linda, said they would vote for Mr. DeLay.

“You are in stronghold Republican territory,” Mr. Hennie said. “I’m sure he’ll win.”

Not as upbeat for Morrison as the KHOU story, but that’s all right. Link via blogHouston. The DMN also joins the anti-DeLay editorial brigade, calling him “damaged goods” (via Taking on Tom DeLay).

You may notice that there’s not a single link to a Chron story in this post. That’s because their coverage of anything outside the Presidential election as of late has sucked, to put it mildly. I find a lot of Chron-bashing to be tiresome, especially given how agenda-driven much of it is, but this is ridiculous. Never mind the utter lack of coverage and analysis of local races, we’re 20 days out from the election and the only endorsements they’ve given have been in a handful of not-seriously-challenged judicial and JP races. Even worse, they don’t as yet have a “We Recommend” page with a listing of all their endorsements like they usually do (not that there’d be much there as yet). It’s mid-October, guys. Get on the freaking stick already.