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Meeting notes - Dec 18, 2009

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Houston-Galveston Area Council Transportation Policy Council
December 18, 2009, 9:30 am

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

TPC agenda, December 18, 2009

Resolution for Approval of Amendment #192 to the 2008-2011 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) and 2035 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP)
Before Alan Clark of H-GAC presented this amendment to the Council, Clark Martinson, GM of Energy Corridor Management District, provided a brief overview of the proposed Eldridge Crosstown Circular bus route.  It would essentially connect METRO bus routes to the Addicks Park & Ride lot, which serves Energy Corridor residents, workers, and businesses.

City of Waller Livable Centers Study (information only)
Jeff Taebel of H-GAC provided an information-only presentation on a Livable Centers Study being done in the City of Waller.  The study is the third that has been completed since the TPC committed $1.5 million to fund such studies in the region via the 2008-2011 Transportation Improvement Program.  Per the link above, the goal of the Livable Centers Program is to help create walkable, mixed-use places that provide multi-modal transportation options, improve environmental quality, and promote economic development.”

To achieve this goal in Waller, Taebel explained that the city will focus on revitalizing its historic downtown and integrating the existing street network and development with potential future commuter rail along 290.  For instance, businesses and housing should have easy access to the rail, and the civic square should include pedestrian improvements such as sidewalks, lighting, and landscaping along the streets in the downtown area.

Taebel also said that the study involved “broad community outreach” and that there is both community and elected leader support for the study.  He added that the next stage of the process is implementation.  Working with the mayor and the Economic Development Corporation of the city, they will need to develop a fiscal analysis that “outlines the proposed funding sources, cost estimates, and priority level” of projects.  The city’s mayor, Paul Wood, speaking after Taebel, added that the city will need TPC’s support for implementation to occur.

Conroe Transit and Pedestrian Improvements Plan (information only)
According to the plan’s information sheet, the city, which passed the 50,000 population level and continues to grow, is looking to “increase high end economic job opportunities, develop residential communities to meet those increasing employer demands, and do so without resulting in negative effects of urban sprawl, preserving the environment and providing good access and mobility choices to its residents, businesses and visitors.”

Lynn Spencer, Senior Associate & Project Manager of the Goodman Corp., provided an overview of an Economic Mobility Strategy, which focuses on three major economic centers:
1. Downtown Conroe
2. Lone Star Executive Airport (LSEA), Conroe Park North, and Proposed Corporate Business Park
3. Northwest Conroe, future Urban Village

For downtown in particular, the city wants to develop a pedestrian-friendly area in which citizens have access to transit (possibly a downtown trolleyway), a gathering plaza with an amphitheatre for cultural arts and entertainment, and a mix of residential, commercial, and retail developments.  Spencer noted that Goodman Corp. has identified $12 million in infrastructure investments, including $4.3 million for bike/pedestrian improvements (lighting, benches, bike racks, waste receptacles, etc), in downtown alone.

Spencer added that a major challenge in meeting the city’s goals involves addressing the education level in Conroe.  Number one, Goodman Corp. found that many residents who left the city for college never returned to Conroe.  Number two, the city has a high level of high school dropouts (28%).  Thus, it’s difficult to attract businesses to the city without an educated population.

Finally, Spencer noted that results of the 2010 Census will have a significant impact on how much funding is available to Conroe.  For instance, if it is designated as an “Urban Area,” Spencer estimated that the city would receive an additional $2 million per year.

2010 Census Implications for Urban Areas in the Houston TMA (information only)
Linda Cherrington of the Texas Transportation Institute provided an overview of 2010 Census implications on federal and state funding allocations of transit funding.  The information sheet provided notes that this is “particularly important to Federal Transit Administration (FTA) formula allocations for transit.” 

Thus, changes in urbanized area (area with population of 50,000 or more) designations “may impact funding allocations and eligible uses of the funds, particularly in regards to FTA formula funds.”  Cherrington noted that there has been significant growth in outlying areas of Houston since the last Census was taken in 2000.  For instance, Fort Bend has grown close to 50% since then.  Because of these changes, Cherrington noted that there could be a few changes in which areas receive FTA funding, most notably the Houston Urbanized Area, The Woodlands, and the City of Conroe (which most likely passed 50,000 people).

Finally, Cherrington noted that the U.S. Dept of Commerce can also decide to cluster cities together.  In the Houston area, mergers such as Woodlands-Houston or TexasCity(partial)-Houston could happen.  TTI will be able anticipate this in early 2010, but the official decision won’t be until 2011.

ARRA Status Report Update (information only)
Alan Clark of H-GAC presented an overview of ARRA happenings.  Most notably, Clinton Drive project design plans were submitted to TxDOT before its December 15th deadline, which gives it time for review before the March 1, 2010 letting deadline.  The project received high prioritization during TPC’s October meeting due to its PM2.5 designation.

Clark also suggested that the council review guidelines used during the first round of ARRA, because there are rumors that there will be a second round in 2010.  Thus, the council should use the lessons learned in round 1 for round 2.

2011-2014 TIP and the 2035 RTP Update (information only)
Finally, Clark reiterated his statements from last month’s meeting - based on actual lettings to date and anticipated revenue for the remaining years of the TIP, the 2008-2011 TIP is significantly over-programmed (he estimated a $1 billion shortfall).  Furthermore, he estimated a $33 billion shortfall for the 2035 RTP.

Thus, they will allocate much less funding to the 2011-2014 TIP.  Clark also noted that the council should approve a 2011-2014 TIP by May of 2010.

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