Madam Mayor and me on the Metro messI've been wanting to do a "big picture" post on Metro since the transition committee reports came out (see below for links), and after a blogger conference call with the Mayor last night I think I finally have all the pieces I need. I originally expected it to be a post of despair:
- Massive debt for extreme rail construction costs hobbling Metro for a decade or more, with budgets running out before the most-critical, job-center-connecting Universities line is built.
- Shady dealings. In fact, Metro offices were raided today by the district attorney.
- A study for a 290 commuter rail line ending at 610, connecting to an Uptown line that probably won't exist from a lack of money, and still providing no meaningful commuter service for anybody going downtown or the the TMC.
- With continued local and global growth, commute times and gas prices will reach intolerable levels, and Metro won't have any money for a desperately needed expansion of express commuter bus service from more neighborhoods to more job centers with more frequency and more capacity. Employers are likely to speed up their exodus to suburbs like The Woodlands, Katy, and Sugar Land - further deteriorating Houston's tax base.
- Logical prioritization would focus on the Universities line and expanded commuter bus service first (with signature bus service on the other lines until they can be comfortably paid for), but $900 million of use-it-or-lose-it federal funding will force us to focus instead on the secondary N and SE rail lines that do not add any new connectivity among job centers.
It's enough to make even a staunch Houston booster like me pessimistic about our future.
But after talking with the Mayor, I feel (a bit) better:
- Her new board members will bring much needed transparency, credibility, new leadership, and fresh thinking to the agency.
- She realizes the critical need for regional expansion of transit, and is ok if Metro is not in charge - a key condition to bringing the surrounding counties on-board.
- She agrees we need a substantial expansion in express commuter bus service as well as circulator systems (like the former downtown trolleys). Unfortunately, she's also supporting commuter rail, which I'm less of a fan of.
- They are willing to consider postponing the non-federally-funded East End line to move up construction of the higher-priority Universities line. I really hope to hear more soon about investigations into this option.
Here are links to pdfs of the Powerpoint charts produced by the transition committees to brief the Mayor. Thanks to the CTC for hosting these on their server:
- METRO transition report - Introduction
- METRO transition report - Regional coordination
- METRO transition report - Light rail punch list
- METRO transition report - Funding structure
- METRO transition report - Basic services
- METRO transition report - Small business
- METRO transition report - Conclusions