The Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Transportation Policy Council (TPC) is comprised of transportation leaders reflecting a variety of cities, counties, and transportation modes in the Houston region.
This body is perhaps the most important long-term planning and decision-making body in the region, but many citizens and even elected officials throughout the region don’t know about the TPC and what it does. All regionally significant transportation projects must be approved by TPC as part of H-GAC’s duty to address major regional issues such as air quality.
Houston Tomorrow interviewed a number of TPC members over the summer of 2009. Some of the members were unable to schedule interviews but instead answered our questions in writing. On July 14, Don Brandon, the Chambers County Engineer, submitted a written statement, and the full text appears below.
Could you tell me about TPC’s role in the region?
The TPC is responsible for selecting and programming transportation projects for the H-GAC Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Do you view our projected growth as an opportunity, crisis, or both?
I view the projected growth in our region as both an opportunity and crisis. The growth is stimulated by job opportunities, which is good for the local economy. However, the growth presents a crisis as more vehicles are placed on deficient or already “at capacity” roadways.
Do you believe that Chambers County should have more or less representation on the TPC?
Not only is Chambers County extremely rural, but it lies in a different TxDOT District than the majority of the other Counties. This is somewhat of a disadvantage when it comes to selecting and programming projects as we’re always in the minority. For that reason, I wouldn’t [want] any less representation than we now have.
As a member of the TPC, how do you create a balance between maintaining current roadways and expanding them?
That is certainly a difficult question because, on the other hand, we have portions of the public that don’t won’t any expansion, length or capacity, no matter the cost. As TPC members, I feel like we have to look at the overall picture and provide for future transportation facilities, whether free to the public or tolled.
Many leaders in the Houston-Galveston area support the creation of the Grand Parkway, yet many organizations believe that its construction will be detrimental to organizations, citizens, and contribute to sprawl. How is this project objectively better for people in the Houston area?
I believe our economy revolves greatly around the transportation of people and goods. SH 99 is just another way of accomplishing that goal. There will always be the “Not-in-my-backyard” types who are too focused on themselves and will never be able to see the big picture.
One of the Texas myths is that we all drive SUVs and will never walk or ride rail, even though many people in the Houston-Galveston area do not drive. What do you think the expansion of light rail will mean to people in this area? Do you think that walkability and bicycle safety are regionally significant transportation concerns?
Another difficult question. Personally I don’t think bicycles and vehicles should be using the same travel lanes. The roadways are partially paid for by the gas tax “paid by vehicles” and not bicycles. I don’t disagree that bicycles take gas guzzling vehicles off the roadway…which is good for the environment….but there is a real safety issue with bicycles and vehicles trying to use the same roadways.
How would you like the public to be involved in transportation planning in the region?
I believe the public needs to present their views to the officials on the Council that represent their area. Other than that, the public meeting forums presently in use are sufficient.
Do you believe that lawmakers should create policies that advance certain transportation goals (i.e., mass transit, greater highway construction)?
Yes, but sometimes the politicians are more interested in getting re-elected than promoting efficient transportation growth.
How has Hurricane Ike affected transportation in the Houston-Galveston region?
Hurricane Ike highlighted those areas that are deficient evacuation routes.
How would you improve long-term transportation planning for the Houston region if you had every planning resource at your disposal? What is your ideal transportation system?
I believe that there will not be enough tax dollars to adequately maintain the present roadways, let alone build new added capacity. In my opinion, toll roads are the only way that significant improvements can be achieved in the long-term.
Is it important for you to consider social and environmental issues (i.e. quality of life, obesity) when making transportation decisions?
Quality of life is certainly an issue for consideration but not as important as getting from A to B.
How can we better connect the people and economy of Chambers County with the Houston region?
Fortunately, previous transportation officials had enough foresight to keep the facilities in our area ahead of the growth and we don’t have significant problems with the commute to Houston.
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