Houston’s buses don’t run at 2 a.m., but that’s when Metro and U.S. Rep. John Culberson began to see real movement toward a deal to improve area transit service.
“We got really intense one night and literally worked line-by-line,” Metropolitan Transit Authority chairman Gilbert Garcia said last week, explaining how months of on-and-off talks helped Metro leaders and Culberson overcome years of distrust and division.
“There was a point where the congressman said, ‘Gilbert, we’re there,’ ” Garcia recalled.
Culberson, a Republican, credited Garcia with breaking through a long history of distrust by acknowledging errors in previous Metro plans and focusing on areas where transit officials and suburban politicians could find agreement.
Last week, Garcia and Culberson inked a deal that puts aside the bitter fight over rail along Richmond Avenue. The agreement delays that issue until after voters get a chance to weigh in, which could be years from now, and instead identifies other projects Culberson can help the transit agency bring to fruition.
Both said they feel confident about this deal. In the past, Culberson and transit officials have spoken of cooperation, only to resume lobbing rhetorical bombs at one another a few months later.
“It’s in writing,” Culberson said of the new agreement.
The deal, described by Garcia as Metro’s “grand bargain” with one of its staunchest critics, is hailed by both sides as a big win- a clear delineation of what each will do for the other.
The cessation of hostilities gives Houston a chance to secure federal funding for projects caught in the crossfire of Culberson’s refusal to open a door for a Richmond Avenue light rail project and Metro’s attempts to make the Richmond line the region’s next signature rail project.
Much of this is stuff we already know, especially if you listened to my interview with Gilbert Garcia and/or Houston Matters’ interview with Culberson. There is of course the question of whether you believe this is for real or not – the Chron expressed a fair bit of skepticism in a recent editorial – but as I said, this is how it is with every contractual agreement ever. Either you believe the other side will do as they say or you don’t. The one piece of new-to-me information in the Chron story was the involvement, on Metro’s behalf, of Republican lobbyist and former Rick Perry chief of staff Mike Toomey. I don’t know what to say about that except that politics really does make for strange bedfellows, and lobbyists really are like roaches in the sense that they’re everywhere whether you can see them or not. For now, I hope the next thing to say about any of this is to hail the news of funding being secured for each of those projects that the agreement touched on.