Houston-Galveston Area Council Transportation Policy Council
May 29, 2009, 9:30 am
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At the beginning of the meeting, two speakers addressed TPC to express opposition to the current route of the Palomino Road extension in League City. The speakers, representing a private company, said that an individual “insinuated ownership” of their property, allowing the city to plan a route through the property. The two said they wanted to alert TPC of the situation before the project came across the council’s desk.
Resolution for Approval of Amendments to the 2008-2009 Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP)
The TPC unanimously approved three UPWP amendments. Alan Clark of H-GAC told the members, “These are just catch-up items. We’re not increasing the total amount of planning funds.” The Council was also presented with one administrative amendment to the 2008-2011 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), and no one raised any questions. Administrative amendments do not require a vote.
Resolution for Approval for MPO Self-Certification
Every year, H-GAC and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) must certify that the “[transportation] planning process is addressing the major transportation management issues facing the area and is being conducted in accordance with all the applicable requirements of [federal law].” The self-certification is included in the current UPWP and TIP and submitted to the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration.
As part of the process, H-GAC must certify that it meets lobbying criteria and that it has not been debarred or committed any offenses. Clark told TPC, “We do have an extensive stack [of papers] documenting our compliance with these [laws],” and TPC approved the self-certification unanimously.
Review of TPC Bylaws Regulatory Compliance
According to Clark, a recent legal review concluded that only public officials—including local elected officials, officials of public agencies that administer or operate major modes of transportation, and appropriate state officials—may serve on TPC. As a result, Clark said that Joe Adams, Vice President of Public Affairs for Union Pacific Railroads, had resigned. Adams had served as a TPC alternate until the retirement of Tom Kornegay as head of the Port of Houston Authority. Adams assumed Kornegay’s seat, leading Harris County Judge Ed Emmett to ask if private entities were allowed on TPC.
H-GAC reviewed the issue and initially concluded in April that private officials were not specifically excluded from membership, but the more extensive legal review reversed this conclusion.
Emmett said that Adams was a good friend and that his opinions were highly valued. He added that he would like to create an ex officio position for rail interests that Adams could fill, allowing Adams to “share his experience and expertise with [TPC].” Chairman James Patterson asked that it be placed on next month’s agenda.
According to Clark, the legal review also concluded that TPC must include an ethics section in its bylaws as a result of legislation passes in 2007, and that such an effort was beginning.
Eligibility Under ARRA of Roadway Maintenance for City and County Roads
In April, Houston City Council member Sue Lovell asked if stimulus money could be used for local maintenance projects. Clark told TPC that the money could be used for maintenance as long TxDOT had classified the roads in question as something greater than “local” or “rural minor collectors” and as long as the roads required no new environmental clearances. Clark also said that the $33 million already let to contract in the Houston region was significantly underbid, which could free up money for contingency projects. Ashby Johnson of H-GAC said that some of the other Metropolitan Planning Organizations around the state were not nearly as organized as H-GAC and could lose some of their money, freeing up more for H-GAC projects.
Lovell said, “Many of us have maintenance work that is badly needed in our cities and counties,” and that she did not want to see a dime of the stimulus money be returned to Washington, D.C. Patterson said that TPC had already approved a list of primary and contingency projects, and that any maintenance items would have to be additions to the list, receiving lower priority than the other contingency projects. “I don’t want anyone to think we’re putting a maintenance project ahead of the approved contingency projects,” he said.
Patterson asked that a simple process be set up to determine maintenance project eligibility. Clark suggested running the language by the TPC officers in order to get started before the next meeting on June 26. The TPC decided earlier in the year to fund new roadway construction instead of maintenance projects that had been included in a preliminary list of projects that could have been included in the ARRA request.
Briefing on the Draft 2010-2011 Unified Planning Work Program
Johnson presented TPC members with an overview of the large projects in the draft UPWP, including quantifying mobile source greenhouse gas emissions, updating the regional aviation system plan for the first time since 1991, creating access management studies, performing commuter and freight rail analysis, and authoring county-level transit plans. H-GAC will hold a public meeting concerning the draft on June 2, and the public comment period ends June 10. The Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) is tentatively scheduled to vote on the draft on June 17, and TPC is expected to follow on June 26. The finalized UPWP is due to state and federal agencies on August 1.
Allen Ritchie of H-GAC gave a presentation on current state legislation, noting that the state legislature passed the two-year state budget conference report, including $16.9 billion for TxDOT. He said that both houses had passed the TxDOT restructuring bill, but the two versions contained significant differences. The House called for 15 elected members on the governing board, while the Senate insisted on five appointed members with shorter term limits. In addition, the Senate version included a local-option transportation funding amendment, which would let voters in certain urban counties approve fees and taxes to fund local transportation projects.
Bike Month Presentation
Connie Clark, chair of the TAC Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee, said that participation in bike-to-work events grew again, and Jim Murphy of the Westchase District gave a short presentation of the ways in which Westchase is trying to improve bicycle access.
Reports on Transportation Planning Activities
Clark noted that the US Department of Transportation would be holding a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant workshop on July 1 from 1-4 pm at H-GAC. The TIGER grants, whose availability was announced on May 15, will provide $1.5 billion in discretionary transportation funding.
Clark noted a Federal Railroad Administration workshop Friday afternoon regarding high-speed rail along the South Central and Gulf Coast corridors.