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Meeting notes - July 15, 2009

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Houston-Galveston Area Council Technical Advisory Committee
July 15, 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.

Approval of 2010-2011 Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP)

2010 UPWP

Ashby Johnson of H-GAC told the committee that H-GAC had received and addressed a number of public comments regarding the 2010-2011 UPWP, and that about 20 people had shown up at the public meeting in early June, which he said was good considering the dull subject matter.

One TAC member expressed concerns that under the UPWP, H-GAC will study intersections and come up with safety recommendations. In particular, he was concerned that some intersections might have liability issues and that some local entities might not have enough funding to carry out the recommendations. He asked how H-GAC would get the support of local agencies. Johnson replied that local jurisdictions would have to request the studies and would be required to pay a 50 percent match to solidify their commitment.

TAC unanimously approved the 2010-2011 UPWP.

Approval of JARC/New Freedom Project Recommendations

H-GAC worked with the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) and conducted a Call for Projects for Job Access Reverse Commute (JARC) and New Freedom programs in May. JARC and New Freedom grant programs are funded through the Federal Transit Administration and are authorized under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).

H-GAC received seven project proposals - five for JARC and two for New Freedom funding - and reviewed the proposals with the help of METRO, Fort Bend Transit, and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). The committee ranked the projects and recommended that four of them receive funding. TAC approved the recommendations, and the Transportation Policy Council (TPC) will vote on them when it meets on July 24.

Legislative Update

Allen Richey of H-GAC said that the Texas legislature extended TxDOT for two years during special session earlier this month but refused tolling measures. He also noted that Gov. Perry vetoed SB 488, which would have mandated minimum passing distances between vehicles and vulnerable road users, because Perry thought it would shift liability to drivers. One TAC member said that that was the entire point of the legislation. The governor also vetoed SB 2169, Richey said, which would have created a smart growth policy group, because Gov. Perry believes that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work in Texas.

At the national level, Richey said federal legislation is becoming more active. He reported that the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works would be meeting later in the day to begin discussing the proposed 18-month SAFETEA-LU extension. The Senate and Obama administration support the extension, but the House opposes it in favor of new legislation.

Richey told TAC members that the climate bill recently passed by the House calls for several transportation-related changes, including mobile-source greenhouse gas reduction goals. Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) such as H-GAC would be in charge of reducing emissions. However, Richey said that there are still more questions than answers at this point.

Ashby Johnson said that he was concerned that the climate provisions may hurt the economy, saying that instead the country should use technology to reduce emissions while maintaining a “healthy” level of vehicle miles traveled to support economic growth. He also expressed concern that the legislation would heavily tax the Houston region, while areas on the east and west coasts would benefit. Johnson also did not want the responsibility for reducing emissions to rest on MPOs. Johnson is the current chair of the Policy Committee at the national Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations.

Another TAC member said that under SAFETEA-LU, transit agencies are not allowed to use money for operating expenses, but that parts of the Houston region had been specifically exempted and are allowed to use the money for operating assistance. She said that the provision should be maintained in the 18-month extension and suggested that perhaps H-GAC should ask TPC for a resolution in support of that goal.

Conformity Update

This item was referred to the next TAC meeting on August 19.

Report on status of transportation planning activities from member agencies

A TAC member said that the proposed Houston transit corridors ordinance is tentatively scheduled for a vote before City Council on Wednesday, July 29. She said that July 29 is the earliest the item would appear on the agenda.

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