Last week, when we heard that the Federal Transit Authority had notified Metro that they would be cleared to begin preliminary engineering of the University Line project if no member of the local Congressional delegation objected by today, I figured there was only one Congressman who mattered. Sure enough, right on cue, here he comes.
[U.S. Rep. John Culberson filed a formal objection with the Federal Transit Authority late Tuesday.] The Houston Republican, a persistent critic of the transit agency, contends Metro is in a “precarious financial condition.” He also criticized some of Metro’s financial projections, because they assume future voters will agree to $620 million more in bonds, and approve a major change in how Metro divvies up its 1-cent sales tax revenue.
Metro officials dismissed his letter, saying it contained errors and that Culberson used an outdated financial forecast.
“He would have you believe we can’t afford University. Not true,” said Metro President Frank Wilson. “This is a clever excising of information.”
Metro Chairman David Wolff charged that Culberson’s action was politically motivated.
“He is just pandering to a hard-right constituency that just cannot accept the idea that the majority of people in Houston want light rail and they want it built,” Wolff said. “It’s just part of his delaying tactics and it’s unfortunate.”
Fortunately, the FTA is not required to bow to Culberson’s demands. They can still make up their own minds, and given how long this process has dragged out, I hope they will not let this get delayed any further.
Mayoral candidate Annise Parker seized on Culberson’s letter to reiterate a campaign theme that Metro needs to display more “accountability.” Houston’s mayor effectively controls the Metro board by appointing five of its nine members.
“I share his concerns that Metro is over-estimating their revenue and under-estimating their expenses for these lines,” Parker said. “There are assumptions, and I’ve been clear and consistent through months of the campaign that I didn’t trust their numbers.”
I part ways with Controller Parker on this. I don’t trust Culberson, and while I’m sure there are valid questions about the finances, he’s not doing this out of genuine concern for the agency. This has always been about killing the University line, nothing more and nothing less. Please don’t egg him on.