The political muscle and money of the Houston region overwhelmingly favor passage of the Metro Referendum next month. If it does pass, the real losers will be the next generation of Houstonians who will live in a world-class city in every respect but one: effective public transportation.
The Houston region has been playing catch-up for years on mass transit, with the last major breakthrough in 2003. That’s when voters approved a highly ambitious plan that included five new light rail lines that would connect to the first light rail line on Main Street, which began service in early 2004.
Three of the five new rail lines are about half finished; that’s the good news. But the most important was to be the major east-west trunk line known as University. The University Line, you may recall, became snarled in controversy over whether part of it should run on Richmond Avenue. If voters approve the referendum, the University Line will be shelved for at least 10 years and probably longer.
Houston, Harris County and the small cities have become heavily dependent on those GMP monies to pay for infrastructure that should be funded with general revenue dollars and weren’t going to give them up without a fight. Over the summer, there were not-so-veiled threats from the small cities to pursue state legislation to withdraw from Metro, while county officials and others were threatening to take the fight to Austin to shift control of Metro’s board away from the city and over to the county. Those threats appear to have worked.
In a closed door meeting with Houston’s mayor, a county commissioner, a representative of the small cities and Metro, the city seemingly yielded to the threats and agreed on ballot language to continue the General Mobility Program, subject to voter approval. The Metro board then ratified the deal, which left Metro staff feeling betrayed and transit supporters reeling in disbelief.
If the Referendum fails, would the Metro board - could it legally - override the will of the voters by continuing the General Mobility payments “in some form”? And even if the city honors the electorate’s will, the county and small cities will likely try in Austin to circumvent a “no” vote when the Legislature meets in January.
Besides all the confusion it’s generating, the 2012 Metro Referendum could mean the end for effective mass transit in Houston for a generation. Or it may be the beginning of a nasty, protracted battle for ultimate control of significant General Mobility monies - unless a “no” vote really does mean no.
Full Story: Vote against Metro referendum could mean more rail
Source: Houston Chronicle, October 5, 2012