Thursday, February 09, 2006

Political pressure to prevent Metro from considering Richmond LRT route

I wanted to pass along this email from Robin Holzer at the Citizens Transportation Coalition. I don't always agree with Robin or the CTC on every issue, but I think they make a strong case here. Long-time readers of this blog know my views on light rail are mixed, but my firm belief is that - if it is going to happen - to make sure it's done right with the highest probability of success and the lowest risk of failure, aka "white elephant" status. A Richmond routing must be actively considered in any study of an east-west line, simply because it links up many more useful destinations than a Westpark routing: the University of St. Thomas, the Menil, Rothko Chapel, Greenway Plaza, and the Galleria just to name a few - not to mention numerous apartment complexes.

Last night, Joe Riley, the mayor of Charleston, SC since 1975, made a very inspiring lecture to the Rice Design Alliance. He has truly worked miracles in reviving that city, and it's clear that he did it by being very tough and relatively uncompromising. He pushed hard, made people uncomfortable, and generated quite a bit of resistance at each step along the way - but he persevered and really triumphed there to national accolades. He asserts that he always had Charleston's long-term best interests at heart in every decision he made, vs. opposition that generally had short-term agendas. A Richmond route is definitely in Houston's long-term best interest, and a fight needs to be waged to make sure it's actively considered - by the Mayor, the administration, Metro, and anybody else who really cares about the city's long-term health, not just short-term business disruptions. I think with a little leadership and backbone, this fight is winnable - and the result will be something we can be proud of for our children, grandchildren, and future generations of Houstonians.

Fri update: Robin posts on her blog.

On to the letter.

Dear friend of METRO:

As you know, METRO is poised to begin the public planning process for the Universities east-west rail line, and they plan to assess both Westpark and Richmond for rail viability. I believe you support both METRO and this federally-required process. However, METROs rail planning process is again in political jeopardy.

There are a handful of small business owners along Richmond who fear that rail on their street may destroy them (Houston Strategies' suggested peace offering: give them free advertising on Metro's web site, buses and stops during construction). They have been organizing since last summer and they are working at all costs to stop this project politically. They are calling themselves Richmond Area Residents and Businesses for Rail. Armed with significant misinformation, they have gathered more than a hundred letters of fear from Richmond business owners. They have attracted the support of state representative Martha Wong, and have now also engaged the support of US Representative John Culberson, as is apparent in the following letter:


      January 25, 2006

      To Whom It May Concern:

      I am writing to add my support for the Richmond Area Residents and Businesses for Rail, and urge that the Houston METRO Board of Directors oppose extending light rail down Richmond Avenue or Westheimer. My office has received a large number of complaints from concerned neighbors who oppose the construction of a light rail line down Richmond and I share their concern. The rail line would damage the neighbors quality of life, diminish their property values, create a safety hazard in residential areas, destroy beautiful trees and landscaping, and eliminate desperately needed traffic lanes.

      I am confident METROs new leadership will listen to the communities affected by these rail plans. It is clear that the overwhelming majority of business owners and residents along the Richmond corridor do not want rail to be built there, and they should not have it forced upon them. I urge the METRO Board to respect the wishes of the people who have invested so much in their homes and businesses along Richmond, and build the rail line where it already has ample right of way along the Westpark Corridor.

      I pledged to honor the results of the 2003 referendum, and I will continue helping METRO work with the FTA to secure Houstons fair share of transit funding. Protecting the quality of life we have worked so hard to build is one of my top priorities, and I want to add my strong objection to those of so many others who do not want this rail line built down Richmond or Westheimer. Our Mayor Bill White and the METRO Board have said repeatedly that they will protect neighborhoods and listen and be responsive to neighborhood concerns. Moving this unwelcome rail line is a great place to start. Thank you for your thoughtful consideration.

      John A. Culberson

      Member of Congress


Houstonians deserve the best transit system METRO can build, which means looking at all possible choices of where to put rail. Politicians must not prematurely determine a route based on their needs.

Rep. Wong is scheduled to appear at the Thu Feb 16 METRO board meeting at 1:00 pm with many of her supporters. I expect her to present the above letter of opposition from Rep. Culberson, demand that METRO take Richmond off the table now, and call for a new referendum.

It is time for everyone who supports more transit for Houston to speak up. We must keep all options on the table and we cannot allow a political process to take one off prematurely. We must make clear that METRO must be allowed to complete their planning process and fairly evaluate all of the alternatives. I urge you to do the following:

· Sign up to address the METRO board by calling Rose Gonzales no later than Monday (713) 739-4842
· If you cannot attend Thursday, then prepare a statement of support for METRO and forward a copy to me
· Contact Mayor Whites office at (713) 247-2200 and express your support for METROs process


If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know.

Thanks and best regards,

Robin Holzer

Citizens Transportation Coalition

3 Comments:

At 7:50 AM, February 10, 2006, Blogger kjb434 said...

The proposed Richmond line will connect too many important centers in Houston to let it fail. The Wespark line would not be able to service LRT users because the stations will not be located close enough to the destinations.

I think the bigger issue is that endorsement for funding for METRO's plan has been pulled from the federal authorities. Metro may have to build this line on there own like the first line.

 
At 8:20 AM, February 10, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I think the fed funding fall-thru was for the north and southeast BRT lines, which were and are a stretch. I think the east-west line is much more solid, as long as it's along Richmond. We'll see next year.

 
At 8:31 AM, February 10, 2006, Anonymous Christof Spieler said...

Tory's right. The feds put in a new set of cost effectiveness criteria, and the North and Southeast lines -- which METRO had done studies on -- did not qualify as LRT. Thus, METRO has concluded that they have to do these as BRT to get federal funds. METRO hasn't studied the Universities line, but they think that with the right alignment it will meet the criteria and can be built as LRT with a federal match.
Of course, John Culberson could pull a DeLay and pressure the FTA to withhold funding regardless of cost-effectiveness.

 

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