In case you missed it, Bill King wrote a column lat week that was based on an email exchange he had with me awhile back in which he laid out his alternate vision for what Metro ought to be doing. Some of the items on his list are things I’d support, like adding amenities to park and ride stops. Some are things that sound interesting but I’d need to know more about before I could comment on, like his trolley-bus-circulator idea. Some are things that I would consider to be a waste of money for no discernable purpose, like elevating the Main Street line through the Medical Center.
Most of the rest are things I don’t have any strong feelings about one way or the other. One reason for that is because they would not do anything to improve mobility for people like me who live and work inside the Loop. As I’ve said many times on this blog, I believe a critical function of an expanded light rail network in Houston is to add capacity to the congested-and-getting-worse street grid of Houston’s inner core. We cannot address this problem the same way we’ve done for our highways, which is to build more lanes, because there isn’t the room for it. (There’s not the room for it any more on most of the highways, either, but that’s another story.) I don’t want to rehash all of that here because I don’t have anything new to add to what I’ve already written, but to me any plan or vision that doesn’t include a solution to this problem is completely inadequate. I’m open to the idea that there’s something other than light rail that can achieve this, but what King proposes ain’t it.
I should also note that King is trying to pull a little sleight of hand when he says “We must also ask what else we could do with that $3 billion to $4 billion”. That money he’s referring to comes from FTA grants specifically geared towards the construction of new rail lines; hence the name New Starts grants:
The New Starts program funds new and extensions to existing fixed guideway transit systems in every area of the country. These projects include commuter rail, light rail, heavy rail, bus rapid transit, streetcars, and ferries.
With the possible exception of the LRT elevation, to which he tacks on the commuter rail to Fort Bend proposal, I don’t see any of King’s suggestions meeting that requirement for the money that Metro is still waiting to get. There may be other grants available for the remaining items, but Metro would have to apply for them and beat out other hopefuls. If there’s one thing we’ve definitively learned from the Buy America debacle, it’s that the FTA very much expects its funds to go to the things it says they must go to. To imply that some of this money could be repurposed for things like rebuilding the I-45 South HOV or the FM1960 corridor is highly misleading. Peter Brown, who responded to King on Facebook, has more.