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Meeting notes - Aug. 19, 2009

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Houston-Galveston Area Council Technical Advisory Committee
August 19, 2009, 9:30 am

Meeting agenda

Houston Tomorrow publishes notes from public meetings to help local governments in their mission to provide transparency and to allow a greater pool of citizens to participate in important policy discussions. These notes are not official meeting minutes, nor do they necessarily record every agenda item.

Conformity Update

Dr. Graciela Lubertino of H-GAC briefly discussed the air quality conformity update. The conformity requirements were adopted in June 2008, and since then, several transportation projects changed in scope and timing. A few projects had also been modeled incorrectly in the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan. A public comment period regarding the proposed changes began on July 22 and ends on August 22, and H-GAC held a public meeting on August 13. No action was needed from the TAC. The conformity update will be considered by the Transportation Policy Council on August 28 and by the Federal Highway Administration in September.

City of Tomball Livable Centers Study

Meredith Dang of H-GAC discussed the Tomball Livable Centers study, which is designed to create a walkable, mixed-use area in downtown Tomball. Currently, she said, Main Street/FM 2920 is inhospitable to pedestrians, causing many of them to park on one side of the street, then get in their cars and drive when they need to cross the street. The Livable Centers plan was well-received at a series of three advisory committee meetings and two public meetings and would, among other things, create wider sidewalks and medians, remove parallel parking and replace it with nearby public parking, and create a park at the site of the city’s original rail depot.

Gretchen Fagan, the Mayor of Tomball, spoke in support of the study. She noted that Tomball adopted its first zoning regulations in 2008 and that the city is currently developing a comprehensive plan. The Livable Centers study and the comprehensive plan go hand-in-hand, she said.

Alan Clark of H-GAC asked if the city had considered mass transit or future rail stops. Dang said that transit was outside the Livable Center study’s scope, but Mayor Fagan said that rail will be included in the comprehensive plan and that the Tomball City Council had already passed a resolution in support of rail transit.

Update on Job Access Reverse Commute (JARC) and New Freedom Project Selections

Kari Hackett of H-GAC said that the Pearland park-and-ride service would be extended for an additional two years and allow for the land to be purchased, rather than leased, if the service is successful enough. A second revision would slightly increase funding for the Fort Bend County New Freedom project to offset recent increases in vehicle prices. The revisions will be added as an administrative amendment.

Ashby Johnson of H-GAC said that H-GAC had extra Federal Transit Administration money and did not want to lose it by not using it by the September deadline, so it put the money into programs that had already been approved.

Update on Regional Aviation Systems Plan

Keith Garber of H-GAC discussed the Regional Aviation Systems Plan, which has not been updated since 1991. The four key challenges facing the 23 airports in the 13-county region are funding, private vs. public ownership, community support, and security issues. The four main goals of the plan are to preserve existing airports, improve safety and security, improve efficiency and eliminate bottlenecks, and benefit communities. Three public meetings will be held in September to discuss the plan.

ARRA Implementation Status Report

Clark discussed the progress of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), saying that H-GAC would begin considering some contingency projects for additional funding as early as September. All of the money must be allocated by March 2010. Clark said that the state succeeded in obligating half of its funds by the June 30 deadline.

So far, about $84.5 million in highway funding has been let to contract in the Houston region, out of a total of $509 million. Most of the region’s transit money - $97 million out of $105 million - has also been awarded.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) had requested assistance from H-GAC and the other state MPOs in compiling a list of projects for TIGER discretionary grants. However, in July the agency decided not to submit a statewide package of projects, instead submitting letters of support for each individual project.

Transportation Planning Activities

Theresa Pella of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) discussed a particulate matter monitor that exceeded federal standards. The monitor is located at Clinton Drive and Clinton Park Avenue in eastern Houston, just outside the 610 Loop. After further study, TCEQ concluded that excess surface dust was causing the reading. The intersection is located near a rail line and unpaved surface parking lots, and the pavement on Clinton Drive has deteriorated, which also contributes to the problem.

Pella said that the area needed to be brought into compliance, or else the region could be designated as a particulate matter nonattainment area. The region is already an ozone nonattainment area. However, she said that the Environmental Protection Agency is not interested in making the region a nonattainment zone, and that as long as the amount of dust could be slightly reduced, the issue would be avoided.

Pella said that TAC and the Transportation Policy Council should keep this in mind, noting that any transportation improvement projects in the area would likely come before the two committees as part of the Transportation Improvement Program.

Several TAC members asked why the entire region would be designated as a nonattainment area for just one monitor, since the region has approximately 40 monitors. Pella said that the designation would not necessarily cover the entire region, but that it would involve an area larger than just the Clinton Drive monitoring station. She also said that the EPA was in the middle of reviewing its particulate matter standards, which it must do every five years in accordance with the Clean Air Act. Alan Clark said that that particular monitor was one of the oldest in the region, and that as such, it was a valuable in tracking the region’s air quality over the years.

A METRO representative reported that the agency received approval for the Final Design process on Monday, allowing it to begin preliminary work along the North and Southeast light rail lines. A Gulf Coast Freight Rail District (GCFRD) representative said that GCFRD is working on a memorandum of understanding with TxDOT and METRO to begin working on a commuter rail line along US 290. She said that GCFRD is taking the lead on that project and is preparing preliminary engineering along that line, as well as a commuter rail line down to Galveston.

David Crossley encouraged TAC members to attend the Megaregions and MetroProsperity Conference that Houston Tomorrow is hosting on September 24 and 25.

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