Thursday, February 19, 2009

#1 in Everything, State of the County, MetroRail budgets

Judge Emmett gave a good State of the County address at a GHP luncheon today (Chronicle coverage, Examiner coverage). Some highlights:
  • The county is financially in good shape, certainly far better than most governments across the country
  • "71 percent of all new jobs created in the U.S. in recent years have been created in Texas." Wow. That stat just blows me away every time I see it.
  • Big plug for the port as a cornerstone of international trade, which is our future.
  • Plug for commuter rail in the Hempstead Corridor and along Route 3 to Galveston.
  • Plug for UH Tier 1 status.
  • His biggest worry sounds like the Harris County Hospital District, and figuring out how pubic and indigent health care is going to be handled and paid for (details here). I think he's right that it needs to get figured out, but it might make sense to wait until after whatever Obama does on health care.
  • Transtar did well did Hurricane Ike, but needs some expansion and improvements to do better.
  • Ended with a great story of heroic all-night efforts by tug boat crews during Ike to keep a large ship that came unmoored from crashing into the 610 Loop Ship Channel bridge, which could have brought the whole thing down. He thought their story kinda got lost in the noise during post-Ike recovery. They have been nominated for U.S. Homeland Security Certificates of Valor. "It highlights our greatest strength - private individuals withe a work ethic and a value system that will see us through good times or bad."
Afterward during the press conference, I asked him about congestion pricing on toll roads. It sounds like they might wait a while to open up the new Katy lanes to toll-payers (he implied lack of demand because the free lanes move so well), and even then it will be a fixed-schedule of prices rather than real-time congestion pricing, which does have the risk of congestion and slow speeds when there is extra demand due to weather or accidents. He doesn't think they're ready for real-time. He know of no talks between HCTRA and Metro on HOV-to-HOT lane conversions, where it would make obvious sense to use HCTRA's EZ-tag, billing, and enforcement systems.

Speaking of Metro, I just came across this Chronicle story today that Metro only got half the federal stimulus funds they expected. They asked for $410 million for the north and southeast rail lines, expected $180 million, but only got $92 million. Given that those two lines alone are estimated to cost over $1.2 billion, I'm curious what Metro's plan is to fill in the budget gap. Are they just keeping their fingers crossed for more federal money for these lines in future years?

Finally, the item that really jumped out at me at the luncheon was this page of Houston #1's they included in our packets. It's kind of mind-boggling when you read it. We've been ranked the best city for living, working, playing, earning a living, keeping your job, buying a home, recent college grads, fastest job growth, hottest labor market, lowest cost of living, largest IT service economy, top U.S. manufacturing city, best cancer hospital, highest population growth, and more. This one came out today calling us the healthiest housing market for 2009 (hat tip to Christina), and the Texas Triangle cities made a clean sweep of the top five positions. Wow. Are we "world-class" yet? ;-) All, I can say is, be thankful you're in the right place at the right time during this global recession.

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At 3:00 AM, February 20, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They forget "best city for Chili con Queso." We need to create a shell agency for commuter rail (perhaps an offshoot of GCFRD?) that can be allocated money directly in the next stimulus package. Somehow I don't think too much is going to "trickle down" from the State level.

At 9:19 AM, February 20, 2009, Blogger Brian Shelley said...

The opportunity we have with the port is an important one. Our regional leaders need to speak up in support of the Colombia FTA to expand economic opportunities for Houston.

Remember, the Colombia FTA is drop tariffs on American products exported to Colombia. Colombia already has free access to U.S. markets because of their cooperation in the "War on Drugs".

At 4:54 PM, February 21, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

tory, i'm not sure if you heard about new york's situation. they are recieving 1.3 billion. 1.3 billion in new york counts for ONE subway station, and ONE new transit hub, just to make it pretty. i agree that we got shafted on this whole Metro idea. i think Frank should plead his case - we are the fourth biggest city in the country, and from EVERYTHING you wrote in your last post (very good by the way) we should have an 800 mile track elevated or light rain system. what in the hell are we going to do with 92 million dollars? i say we wait for more funding and buy new buses and build new park and rides. it just doesn't seem feasible at all to build 1 mile of light rail.

At 1:12 PM, February 22, 2009, Blogger engineering said...

Thanks for the posting. All very good info.
Will be very interesting to revisit these issues in a year time.
g. camacho

At 2:24 PM, February 23, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An elevated light rail is a good idea, but we need a plan that makes good sense. The limited expansion that is planned won't help much.

And thank God we do have a good real estate market. It is keeping me busy!

At 9:59 PM, February 23, 2009, Blogger David O. said...


I am interested in the 71% statistic ... it seems a bit of a stretch. As a cynic, I am tempted to review where and when this type of growth occurred.

Great article by the way ... keep it up!

At 10:22 PM, February 23, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...


You're the second skeptic I've had. I think it's a quirk of the stats. Texas of course added a lot of jobs the last few years, esp. with the oil boom. At the same time, a lot of other states were losing jobs. This depressed the overall stat for national job growth, reducing the denominator and pumping up our percentage.

Let's do an example. Say Texas adds 100K jobs, other states add 400K jobs, and still other states lose 300K jobs. The net is +200K jobs, half of which are in Texas. But we're really not half of *all new jobs*, since a total of 500K were added - we're only 20% of those. We're half of the net job creation.


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