Advocates of federally subsidized expansion of the Houston Metro light rail system lost a crucial round to Houston Congressman John Culberson on Friday, leaving dwindling opportunities to overturn spending restrictions on the Richmond Avenue project.
The House adopted a $51.6 billion spending measure on a 261-163 vote that included Culberson’s ban on federal spending for any Metro expansion along Richmond Avenue and Post Oak Boulevard. The measure also requires an in-depth audit of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County by the inspector general of the Department of Transportation.
In a boost for Metro, the spending package included $200 million in 2013 to support continued work on the lines in the North Corridor and Southeast Corridor.
The House vote left Metro supporters holding their fire and looking to deliberations by a House-Senate conference committee later this year to make the final decision on a ban included in the House bill but not included in the Senate version.
“We will await the outcome of the normal process in the House and Senate,” said Metro Chairman Gilbert Garcia. “We remain hopeful that Congress will respect the wishes of local voters on local issues, as is normally the case.”
Robin Holzer, of the pro-Metro Citizens Transportation Coalition, said voters and civic organizations have voiced strong support for light rail construction along both Richmond Avenue and Post Oak Boulevard.
“Culberson is pandering to a handful of his supporters at the long-term expense of this district,” Holzer said. “Marketing himself as “Letting Texans run Texas,” while pushing his personal anti-rail agenda in Washington is ironic.”
Retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, will be squarely in the middle of any House-Senate negotiations on Culberson’s spending restriction.
Point of clarification here, the CTC is pro-transit, not pro-Metro. If you don’t get the distinction, go look up some of the things Metro was doing when Frank Wilson was CEO. Despite Culberson loading up KBH’s office with his baloney about Metro and rail expansion, I think there’s a decent chance that KBH will do the right thing. But now would be a very good time to contact her office and let her know that she needs to step up and support transit in Houston. Call 713 653 3456 or 202 224 5922, send email from here, write on her Facebook wall, or send her a tweet. Be nice, be respectful, and be clear.
Long term, the only solution is to elect a new member of Congress. To that end, it would be nice if the two Democratic contenders for the nomination in CD07 could take a few minutes out of their busy schedule of sniping at each other and maybe put out a press release on this or something. It would also be nice if the business interests in Greenway Plaza that support the University Line would say something about this. Barring a significant change in the Congressional map resulting from the DC Court’s long-awaited ruling on redistricting, the best chance of getting an upgrade in CD07 is going to be in the Republican primary. That’s not going to happen as long as these folks refuse to rock the boat. Until we all get on the same page here, Culberson will continue his crusade to nullify the 2003 referendum and ensure Houston is unable to move forward as a competitive 21st century city.