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Meeting Notes - Oct 23, 2009

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Houston-Galveston Area Council Transportation Policy Council
October 23, 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, October 23, 2009

Administrative Amendments to 2008-2011 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP)
Mr. Alan Clark of H-GAC provided a brief explanation of TIP Administrative Amendments 171, 173, and 174.  These amendments do not require TPC’s approval.

Approval of Resolution Honoring Mrs. Rose Hernandez
TPC approved a resolution to recognize and honor the service of Mrs. Hernandez, Harris County Director of Public Infrastructure Initiatives, to the TPC.  After serving as the alternate representative for Harris County for nine years, Mrs. Hernandez is retiring.  Before passing the resolution, various TPC members took turns lauding Mrs. Hernandez for her kind demeanor and strong work ethic.

PM2.5 Nonattainment Designation for Harris County
Mr. Clark provided an in-depth overview of a situation in which Harris County is not attaining the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for annual particulate matter below 2.5 microns (PM 2.5).  To start his discussion, Mr. Clark referred to a letter that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent to Texas Governor Rick Perry on October 8, 2009.

The letter notes that Harris County, and surrounding areas, were designated as “unclassifiable/attainment” on January 5, 2005.  However, “the most recent air quality monitoring data for PM2.5, for the period from 2006 to 2008, indicate that one monitor in Harris County is now violating the 1997 annual PM2.5 NAAQS.”  In effect, EPA is initiating a process to redesignate Harris County and those nearby areas contributing to the violation in Harris County, as ‘nonattainment’ for the 1997 annual PM2.5 NAAQS.  Furthermore, Governor Perry has 120 days to respond to the letter with recommendations for the redesignation of Harris County, and any nearby areas that may be contributing to the violations in Harris County.

According to Mr. Clark, the heart of the problem is at a monitor located on Clinton Drive near East Loop 610.  He explained that preliminary investigative work performed by the Texas Council on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and Port of Houston Authority (PoHA) suggests that the most likely cause of the PM2.5 near the monitor comes from dust on Clinton Drive and nearby unpaved roads and parking areas.  Mr. Clark elaborated on this by showing photos of the area and discussing the dust problem in more detail:
1. Because culverts and ditches on the road appear dysfunctional, storm water carried by them carries soil from adjacent properties - once this material dries up, it is re-entrained as dust by trucks traveling down Clinton Drive.
2. Because of the road’s narrow lanes, trucks are forced to drive on unpaved portions of it to pass each other.  This inevitably causes dust clouds, which contributes to the high PM2.5 reading. 

To address these problems, Mr. Clark suggested the following mitigation measures:
1. Rehabilitation and restoration of drainage structures along Clinton Drive.
2. Repaving of Clinton Drive and its shoulder areas.  This would include moderate lane-widening so that large tractor trailers wouldn’t be forced onto the shoulders of the roadway.

While this was not an Action item on the meeting’s agenda, Mr. Clark presented this information piece before Item 8 (which was an Action Resolution) so that the Council could take it into account for that vote.  Furthermore, he noted that he believed a $5 million commitment of ARRA contingency money could go a long way for the project and, in answering a Council member’s question, said that there could be substantial consequences if Harris County was designated a “non-attainment area”:
1. The state would have to develop and implement plans before reaching “Attainment”, which might take several years. 
2. Also, a “non-attainment” designation would be an additional factor for the TPC to consider in analyzing projects, which would be both timely and costly.

Resolution for Approval of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Contingency Projects
Both State and Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) selected ARRA projects continue to experience cost under-runs as they are let to contract.  Because of this, TxDOT has revised project cost estimates, and H-GAC continues to track actual contract letting against funds available.

For this meeting, H-GAC was requesting that the TPC approve three items:
1. Approval of Amendment 164 to the 2008-2011 TIP so that Highway 146 South and Spur 330 North would be joined by a direct connector in the city of Baytown.  Per a letter from Stephen H. Don Carlos, mayor of Baytown, to the H-GAC, the connector would “remove bottlenecks in the transportation network in the city of Baytown and improve a critical evacuation route serving the 70,000 residents of Baytown located in Harris County as well as improve evacuation alternatives for some residents of Galveston and Chambers Counties.”  The mayor’s letter also comments on the fact that drivers have to exit main lanes and travel through three signalized intersections in order to hit I-10.  The letter continues, “The proposed project would also greatly improve daily travel within the city of Baytown and provide improvements in freight movement within our region and improve air quality as tractor trailors traveling from port and factory facilities will no longer need to stop and idle as much at traffic signals or in congestion.”
2. Approval of the addition of Off-System Rehabilitation projects to the MPO Contingency List.  During the meeting, Council member Pam Holm also suggested that the Council add the Clinton Drive project to the top of the Off-System Rehabilitation projects list and move Upper Kirby, Uptown, and Off-System projects above the MH-Hempstead project on the MPO Contingency List. 
For more information on the Clinton Drive project, please see section titled “PM2.5 Nonattainment Designation for Harris County” above.
3. Authorize the MPO Director to approve administrative amendments to the 2008-2011 TIP advancing contingency projects as shown in Attachment 1 (as selected by the Texas Transportation Commission) and in the order shown in Attachment 2 and Attachment 3 (as MPO ARRA funding becomes available).

Candidate List for Proposition 12 Funding
Mr. Clark provided background on Proposition 12 Bonds for information purposes only. 

Recommendations of the By Laws Committee
Mr. Steve Howard of H-GAC provided an overview of modifications that the TPC Bylaws Committee was recommending for three areas of the Council’s Bylaws:
1. TPC Ethics Policy as required by State law
2. TPC Composition
3. Bylaws cleanup to deal with outdated language

The committee requested that TPC members review the proposed changes and adopt the recommendations at their November 20th meeting.

Metropolitan Mobility Program
Mr. Ashby Johnson of H-GAC presented information on a new “Metropolitan Mobility and Access (MMA) Program” that could greatly change the way metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) operate in the future.  Congressman James Oberstar, Chairman of the US House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, included the program in draft legislation outlining his priorities for the next Surface Transportation Authorization.

The program is designed to:

provide multi-modal transportation funding and financing authority directly to metropolitan planning organizations, thereby allowing MPOs broad multi-modal flexibility in planning and implementing programs of surface transportation projects to reduce vehicular congestion, to maximize mobility and access of people and goods, and to improve safety, environmental sustainability, and livability in large urbanized areas

As currently written, the MMA Program would only apply to regions with populations in excess of 500,000 persons.  According to Mr. Johnson, he and Mr. Clark believe TxDOT already has plenty of work on their hands.  Thus, this program would help to push local projects along faster.  Thus, he and Mr. Clark are requesting that the Council adopt a resolution expressing support for the concept at the November TPC meeting.

Transportation Planning Activities
Finally, Mr. Clark commented very briefly on H-GAC Board Actions, referenced a letter from the Federal Highway Administration to TxDOT, and enthusiastically revealed that a new Cube Voyager based unified travel forecasting model has been developed by H-GAC in conjunction with METRO, TxDOT, the City of Houston, and Fort Bend County.








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