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Metro’s post-Culberson future

You might not be aware of this, but famously anti-Metro Congressman John Culberson lost his bid for re-election on Tuesday. What might that mean for Metro?

Lizzie Fletcher

In one of the more stunning defeats of incumbent Republicans on Tuesday night, Lizzie Fletcher beat out long-time Congressman John Culberson in the Texas 7th District. It is the first time this seat has been held by a Democrat in more than 50 years.

While Fletcher campaigned primarily on inclusiveness and healthcare, one portion of the platforms on her campaign website should not go unnoticed. “We need to partner with cities, counties, and METRO to bring additional resources and improvements to our region,” she says on her website. “We need an advocate for policies that both maintain and expand our region’s mobility infrastructure. And we need to make sure that Houston receives its fair share of transportation funding to move our citizens across the region.”

This seems like a logical and rational position given Houston’s congestion issues and rapidly growing size. But, she adds one additional note. “John Culberson has failed to be a partner in this effort. Even worse, his record shows that he has actively worked against expanding transportation options in Houston.”

Some might dismiss this as campaign rhetoric, but the thing is, she isn’t wrong. In a now infamous 2014 fundraising event at Tony’s, the posh Italian eatery in Greenway Plaza, Culberson bragged about preventing light rail from expanding to a line planned for Richmond Avenue. “I’m very proud to have been able to protect Richmond and Post Oak from being destroyed as Fannin and Main Street were destroyed,” he said. “This is the end of all federal funding on Richmond.”

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Now that Culberson’s aversion to rail is removed from the district, it will be interesting to see if Fletcher takes up the mantle of public transportation and acts as less of a hindrance — or even an advocate — for programs that would increase rail and other public transit programs through the Houston-Galveston region.

KUHF also asked those questions.

METRO Chairman Carrin Patman said she thinks Lizzie Fletcher will be a huge help as the agency moves ahead with a new regional transit plan.

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But what does Fletcher’s election mean for any Richmond rail plans?

Patman said for cost reasons they’re now considering bus rapid transit for the Richmond corridor, to help provide better connections between downtown and The Galleria. But she added that project would also require help from Washington, D.C.

“Just as we built two of the three rail lines with a federal match, we will need federal money to help implement our expanded transit in the region,” explained Patman.

So first and foremost, Culberson’s defeat means that when he officially opposes the Metro regional transit plan, as I expect he will, he’ll do so as just another cranky member of the general public. And not just with Lizzie Fletcher in Congress but Democrats controlling Congress, there should be a good chance to get the Culberson anti-Richmond rail budget rider removed. That’s all very much to the good, but it’s a start and not a done deal. But as Christof Spieler helpfully reminds us, there’s a lot of work still to be done, as any federal funds only exist as matches to local money. We need to put up the cash first, then we can try to get federal help. Christof has a few suggestions, and I would submit that the changeover in Harris County Commissioners Court, as well as having a potentially friendlier-to-rail representative from the county on the H-GAC Transportation Policy Council, could be game changers of equal magnitude. You want to see this gap in Metro’s transit infrastructure get filled? Start by engaging on the 2019 transit plan referendum, and tell your local officials to support Metro in this effort.

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4 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    While the Katy Freeway still clogs up somewhat, it’s waaaaay better than it was, thanks to Culberson. I understand the benefit of mass transit, actually, it was Kuff’s posts that convinced me of its benefits, but I don’t think more trains are going to help on a day to day basis. The reason is, when you start adding up travel time to catch a bus, transfer once or twice to get to a train, and the time spent actually getting to a bus stop, it doesn’t make sense vs. driving. If I wanted to commute 20 miles to downtown, using mainly buses, it would take me close to 2 hours, and I live 20 miles from downtown. The park and rides save some time because people drive their cars to get there.

    The Park and Rides seem to be successful, and if I need to go downtown, that’s my choice. It worked great for the Trump rally. I drove to my nearest P&R location and was actually the only passenger dead heading back to downtown. Really cool, and the driver was great, dropping me at the best possible place, even telling me where to catch the outbound bus after it was over, since the detours changed the bus route.

    If I had to do it daily, I’d probably drive to the park and ride, but if I had to go anywhere else in Houston on a daily basis, driving is the only reasonable option, based on the time it takes to use Metro for the bulk of your trip.

  2. Mainstream says:

    I would anticipate that newly elected Congressman Dan Crenshaw will share the Culberson view of light rail.

  3. Manny Barrera says:

    As some one who wrote the Park and Ride for years, the difference between driving and being driven is a whole new world. If tired in morning, I could catch up with my sleep. On the way back take out my Kindle and read. It took about same time to ride or drive from my house.

    For long commutes rail is an alternative, New York, but Houston is so spread out, not sure it would work here.

  4. Andrew Lynch says:

    Houston is too big for rail. Dallas DART was a huge boondoggle. Let’s not make the same mistake. Culberson is right to be against Rail.

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