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Meeting notes - Sept 25, 2009

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Houston-Galveston Area Council Transportation Policy Council
September 25, 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, September 25, 2009

Resolution for Approval of Amendments to the 2008-2011 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) and 2035 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP)
Mr. Alan Clark of H-GAC started out by outlining two amendments proposed by the Texas Department of Transportation for the 2008-2011 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) and the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) .
1. Amendment #166 calls for $5,000,000 of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to be applied to the Greater East End Livable Centers ARRA Contingency project (see pages 2, 3, and 4 for more details).  Mr. Clark noted that the funds would come from stimulus under-runs on other projects.  Furthermore, the rest of the project would be locally funded.
2. Amendment #168 calls for an increase in funding of project CSJ 0912-00-421 (see pages 2, 5, and 6 for more details) from $3,848,500 to $5,000,000 and a changing of scope of work to “City-wide WiMax Implementation”.  Essentially, this project would achieve by wireless technology city-wide what the original fiber optic system was going to achieve on the West Houston ATMS.  Further expanding on this point, Mr. Clark stated, “The City has been working to develop a system that would use cell phone type technology to install a series of transmitter receiver towers around the city that would enable them to communicate with virtually any kind of traffic devices.” 
***Both of these amendments were passed and approved by the Transportation Policy Council***

Administrative Amendments (2008-2011 TIP and 2035 RTP ; 2010-2011 UPWP Amendments)
Alan Clark of H-GAC provided a brief explanation of TIP Administrative Amendments 157, 158, 161, 163, 165, and 167.  These amendments do not require TPC’s approval.

Mr. Clark also commented on Amendment 1 - Task 3 Short-Range Planning, which reflects revised text changes in Subtask 3.2, Product 3.2.6 of the Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP).  Per the UPWP Amendment link above, “This requested action by the Federal Transit Administration occurred after the new UPWP was posted for adoption and after the public comment period was completed.”  Since there were no changes in funding in this amendment, a public meeting was not required in accordance with H-GAC’s Public Involvement Plan.

Approval of Functional Classification Change
The Council unanimously approved a request made by the TxDOT Beaumont District to change the functional classification of FM 1413 from SH 146 to US 90 from “rural minor collector” to “rural major collector” due to increased traffic volume on the road.  Per Mr. Alan Clark’s explanation, this change would make the roadway eligible for federal funding.

Approval of Chambers County Transit Plan
Mr. Kari Hackett of H-GAC presented a Chambers County Transit Plan, which includes short-term, mid-term, and long-term recommendations for addressing mobility challenges of Chambers County residents.  The plan was unanimously approved by the TPC, which enables the use of federal and/or State funds to support transit system improvements proposed for Chambers County.

Legislative Update
Mr. Allen Richey of H-GAC provided a brief legislative update on several bills that may ultimately affect transportation, transportation financing, and transportation planning:
1. The House passed its version of Climate Change legislation, The American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), HR 2454.  The bill includes several provisions that affect transportation planning, including greenhouse gas reduction targets.  The Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to act on its version of the bill before the end of September.  It is still unclear when a bill would be considered by the Senate.
2. The House wants to reauthorize the Surface Transportation program in the near term (approx 3 months), whose end is quickly approaching, while both the Senate and the Administration prefer an 18 month extension of the current bill.  The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has published a draft version of a six-year, $500 billion bill in which funding is split with $337 billion going to highways, roughly $100 billion going to mass transit, roughly $13 billion going to highway and motor carrier safety, and $50 billion going to develop high-speed rail corridors.  The House Committee has not identified how to finance the bill, which is probably why it hasn’t been introduced yet.
3.  Mr. Richey touched on the annual transportation appropriations process, which determines how much money will be provided to the Department of Transportation to fund projects.  The Transportation Appropriations Bill has been passed by the House and by the Senate Appropriations Committee.  Next, the bill must be passed by the Senate and then the Conference Committee before it becomes law. 

Finally, Mr. Richey finished his legislative update by saying, “One thing to say on all these measures that affect transportation planning - it is unlikely that either chamber of Congress will get to these measures - climate change or reauthorization - until they’ve addressed Medicare, health care, and medical reforms.  So that is kind of the cloud looming over all of these decisions.” 

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Update
Mr. Clark provided a brief overview of highway projects that were let to contract in August or were anticipated to let in September.  These projects can be seen at the bottom of this page.

Furthermore, Mr. Clark discussed a scoring system developed by H-GAC staff to determine the eligibility of local projects to be funded by ARRA.  Based on the scoring system, which includes Project Cost per Vehicle Mile of Travel and Pavement Condition Rating as scoring criteria, H-GAC has drafted a ranked list of eligible projects.  They are now reviewing this list with project sponsors and anticipate requesting action from the TPC at the October 23, 2009 meeting to approve the ranked list for use in the event additional contingency funding becomes available.  More information on the scoring system can be found here

Report on Transportation Planning Activities
To start, Mr. Clark provided a brief overview of the estimated funds that the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) anticipates will be available for the letting of new highway funded projects in the upcoming fiscal year of 2010 (which starts October 1).  Based on these estimates, Mr. Clark noted that a large number of projects will have to be put on hold because of a lack of funding.  In fact, even with the federal stimulus, the highway funding for projects in fiscal years 2008 through 2010 of the TIP require over one billion dollars more than that which is available.  Because of this situation, the H-GAC staff anticipates amendments to the TIP to reflect the fiscal year 2010 letting schedule at the TPC’s October meeting.  For more information, please click here.

Grand Parkway Update
Finally, Mr. Clark noted that all seven counties (Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, and Montgomery) have approved orders exercising the Primacy Option in the development of State Highway 99 (aka the Grand Parkway).  This means that all seven counties have decided to exercise their right under Section 228.0111(g) of the Texas Transportation Code to develop, finance, construct, and operate the portion of Grand Parkway located within their respective territories.  More information on this issue can be found under the heading “Grand Parkway” on this page.

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