The people who originally supported Metro’s light rail plan the most strongly are not very happy with the new plan.
Two days after Metro’s revised transit plan was announced, criticism was bubbling up in the minority communities whose votes for light rail tipped the scales in a close election.
“It’s clearly a slap in the face,” the Rev. William Lawson said of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s decision to begin with a guided busway system in his southeast Houston neighborhood and three others. Metro says these will be upgraded to light rail when ridership increases.
Four routes were designated for light rail in the November 2003 referendum that authorized the original plan.
The new plan, announced Monday, calls for only one immediate light rail route, from the University of Houston to near the Galleria.
“The largest percentage of Metro riders are people from the southeast quadrant,” Lawson said, “and they needed the votes of those people to get the issue passed.”
Minister Robert Muhammad, head of Nation of Islam’s southwest region, who endorsed the 2003 Metro plan, said the change of plans “may be the straw that broke the camel’s back politically. We can’t trust anything that they say.”
The referendum passed with 52 percent of the vote.
About 74 percent of low-income blacks and 80 percent of middle-income blacks voted for the Metro light rail plan.
So did 57 percent of Hispanics, compared with 45 percent of middle-income whites and 42 percent of upper-income whites.
It would not be at all difficult to spin a plausible conspiracy theory out of this, especially given (as Kevin noted in the comments here) that John Culberson has flipflopped on his support and now wants a re-vote. Culberson and DeLay tell Metro it can have their blessings to go forward if it’ll agree to changes to its original plan which its biggest supporters won’t like, then once that agreement is in hand they tell Metro it has to win another referendum because the original one didn’t cover what’s in the new plan. Brilliant, really, when you think about it. Of course, that would imply that such stalwart servants of the people’s wishes as those two were being duplicitous, which as we know just simply cannot be.
Anyway. Politicians representing the now-overlooked areas are waiting to hear more.
“This is not helping Metro’s credibility problem,” said U.S. Rep. Gene Green, whose district includes the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s North, Southeast and Harrisburg corridors.
All three were to have light rail but are now scheduled for Bus Rapid Transit, with train-like buses riding on a future rail right-of-way until ridership increases enough to justify switching to rail. A new corridor, from the University of Houston to Greenway Plaza and the Galleria area, will get light rail from the start.
“None of us had an idea that there was a preference for one route over another,” Green said. “We were told the North route was furthest along in planning and everything else.”
A second Democratic congressman from Houston, Al Green, said he will reserve comment on the plan until he understands it more fully, but he added, “People are concerned that there may be some plan that is going to develop that would not be consistent with what they perceived it to be when they were casting their votes.”
Frank Michel, spokesman for Mayor Bill White, said Metro President and CEO Frank Wilson will travel to Washington next week to brief the area’s congressional delegation about the changes.
State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said it appears that “the west side of town won out over the right side of town.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s clear this is not the end of the discussion,” he said.
Coleman is scheduled to talk to White, Wilson and Councilwoman Ada Edwards this afternoon, but said he wished that discussion had taken place before the plan was made public.
“I’m disappointed that people don’t understand that you have to work a deal with everybody, regardless of the sticks people carry,” Coleman said. “I hope that we can get some clarity on what the plan is.”
Several area legislators, including U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, state Sen. Rodney Ellis, both Houston Democrats, and Commissioner El Franco Lee are all on the same page, according to Coleman.
We’ll see what happens after these folks get briefed. If they’re still unhappy, things could get ugly for Metro. This could be a test of how good a salesman Mayor White is.