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Uptown Management District

Parker expresses doubt about University and Uptown lines

This is not the sort of thing I want to see.

Mayor Annise Parker cast doubt Wednesday on whether the Metropolitan Transit Authority has the money to pay for two planned light-rail lines that proponents say are critical to the success of the agency’s plans.

Parker said members of her transition team have “drilled down” into Metro’s finances and she now feels comfortable only with the funding plans of three rail lines: the East End, North and Southeast. Construction on those lines is under way.

Parker’s goal is to make sure those three lines are built “very, very rapidly,” she said. The other two, the Uptown and University lines, “are lines that I want to see built, but until we can finalize all the numbers, and some of them are still moving, I’m not going to commit to whether that is possible.”

The difference between building the two U lines and not building them is the difference between having a fully functional rail transit system and having a few light rail lines. Among other things, the various commuter rail lines that are being talked about will be far less useful if you can’t continue riding rail into places like Greenway Plaza and the Galleria. The University line is the linchpin, as David Crossley put it, and not having it would leave a gaping hole.

Having said all that, it’s a little early to panic. The University line is an excellent bet to receive federal funds, which will help a lot. If you listened to my interview with John Breeding of the Uptown Management District, he believed the Uptown Line was at least five years away, perhaps more like ten, and it’s likely that the financial picture will be quite different by then. And of course there’s the matter of the 2003 referendum, in which the voters approved building these lines. You’d think there will be some pressure to finish the job.

Responding to Parker’s comments, [Metro Board Chair David] Wolff said he believed the agency’s funding plan is feasible, although he was happy to discuss the matter further with the mayor.

Metro confirmed this week that it intends to issue $2.6 billion in bonds in the next few years, about four times the amount of debt approved by voters in 2003, to finance its rail plans. The agency said voter approval of the bonds is not necessary.

Wolff said Metro will be able to pay down the bonds it will have to issue for the University and Uptown lines and remains confident that the remaining puzzle piece — an additional $700 million in federal funding — will be approved by the Federal Transit Administration.

The bond question was the subject of a story from yesterday in which we get the usual treatment of someone who is not a rail supporter trying to tell the rest of us what the referendum really said. I’ll simply note here that that point was not addressed by Mayor Parker and leave it at that until we see what the transition team has to say.

Interview with John Breeding

Last week, I noted that several business owners along Post Oak had gotten together with one of the local anti-Metro agitators to complain about what was going on with the Uptown Line and make claims about working to stop it from being built. Among other things, I noted that the story did not include any response from Metro or the Uptown Management District, which I understood to be the main mover behind the Uptown Line design. So I figured if I wanted to know what the Uptown Management District had to say, I ought to ask for myself. As such, I got in touch with John Breeding, the President and CEO of the Uptown Management District, to ask him about it. Here’s what we talked about:

Download the MP3 file

So now you know. Tomorrow I will publish an interview with soon-to-be-outgoing Metro Chair David Wolff. Tune in then and hear what he has to say.

Uptown agitation

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A bunch of business owners along a proposed light rail corridor are upset with Metro.

Business owners along Post Oak Boulevard met for about two hours Thursday in an effort learn about — and block — plans for a Metro light rail line that would run in front of their businesses.

After the gathering, many left Kenny & Ziggy’s Deli, 2327 Post Oak, expressing what attorney Chris Begala described as “disappointment, even shock.”

Begala, who organized the meeting on behalf of his client and relatively new Post Oak tenant Jim “Mattress Mack” MacIngvale, characterized those attending as “like-minded people,” who feel the Metropolitan Transit Authority is going beyond what it has been charged to do.

“They (business owners) are going to raise the bar, raise awareness,” he said, of the group’s plans.

More info about the Uptown line design is here. While the story focuses on what Metro is doing, it’s the Uptown Management District that has done the design work on this. There are no quotes in the story from anyone associated with the UMD, or with Metro for that matter, so it’s hard to objectively evaluate the complaints from this story. On Monday, I will publish an interview with UMD President John Breeding, in which we discuss this story and what their plans are for Post Oak. I hope that will help to clear this up a bit.

One thing to add is that Chris Begala was one of the anti-Richmond agitators, and he took that act up to the North Line back in 2007, with little effect. He can talk all he wants about blocking the Uptown line, but the fact remains that this was voted on in the 2003 referendum, and they’re not even claiming some bogus “The ballot said Westpark!” logic to claim that the line isn’t supposed to be built where Metro is planning it. If the goal here is to get Metro and the UMD to do a better job of communicating with them about their plans, then I wish them all the luck in the world and I expect them to be successful. If they think they can actually stop this, I have no idea what legal justification they think they have for that. Thanks to Swamplot for the link.