So it’s official, Commissioners Court has voted to seek stimulus funding for the Grand Parkway Segment E despite numerous concerns about the way they went about it. Houston Tomorrow explores a facet of this that I hadn’t been aware of before.
Proponents of Segment E have come under fire in recent months for waiving a detailed financial analysis of the project, and the current proposal appears to be an attempt to mute that criticism. However, it comes four months after the Commissioners Court approved 30 engineering contracts worth almost $22 million, and five months after the seven counties voted to waive the market valuation process. The language of Tuesday’s agenda provides some flexibility, so it is unclear how detailed the viability study will be. The commissioners will also vote on increasing the value of one of the existing contracts, as well as purchasing two tracts of land to develop Segment E. The full agenda items are available at the bottom of this page.
Videotaped testimony from last summer’s terms and conditions negotiating process, which is no longer available online, revealed that the entire Grand Parkway is revenue-negative. Art Storey, executive director of the Harris County Public Infrastructure Department, agreed with that assessment, telling the Commissioners Court in February, “The whole highway is demonstrably a loser.“ However, Storey insisted that Segments E and F, by themselves, are toll-viable.
At the same time, Storey and others hope that the $181 million for Segment E will jump-start the rest of the $5 billion, 180-mile project, including the non-toll-viable portions. Three days after saying that the Grand Parkway will lose money, Storey, who sits on the regional Transportation Policy Council (TPC),spoke in support of the Grand Parkway at a TPC meeting, saying that “the doing of it [building Segment E] will make the doing of the rest of it more likely and more feasible.” He was supported by TxDOT commissioner Ned Holmes, who does not sit on the council but made a special trip to Houston to lobby for the project and said that the stimulus money could “induce the entire Grand Parkway to be built.”
I don’t know that I have anything to add to this. Just keep it in mind the next time you hear someone complain about the cost of building rail lines.