The Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Transportation Policy Council (TPC) is comprised of transportation leaders reflecting a variety of cities, counties, and transportation modes in the Houston region.
This body is perhaps the most important long-term planning and decision-making body in the region, but many citizens and even elected officials throughout the region don’t know about the TPC and what it does. All regionally significant transportation projects must be approved by TPC as part of H-GAC’s duty to address major regional issues such as air quality.
Houston Tomorrow interviewed a number of TPC members over the summer of 2009. On July 29, Kristen Wright sat down with Larry Calhoun, the Downtown Manager for the City of Conroe, to discuss TPC. Below is an edited version of the transcript.
Could you tell me about TPC’s role in the region?
Well, the Transportation Policy Council plays a vital role in the region, directing funding to the important projects and prioritizing them. Without the TPC’s direction, there would not be equality in the funding, in relation to the entities that receive it.
Do you view our projected growth as an opportunity, crisis, or both?
I view it strictly as an opportunity. Crisis occurs when you don’t manage it. When you manage growth, there is no crisis.
With growth comes prosperity. You can either remain stagnant, or go forward. We have a good economy in this area, while the rest of the nation is suffering. I think that’s due largely to the growth that we’re experiencing. And, to manage that growth is an important part of the role of the TPC.
The Conroe City Council recently awarded a bid to build a park in downtown Conroe. Do you believe that this park will enhance the quality of life in Conroe?
Absolutely. When major corporations come to any community, one of the first things they do is visit the downtown area. How you take care of your downtown is a reflection of how you take care of your city. Cities have a responsibility to provide more than water and sewer and police and fire protection. It’s also the city’s responsibility to create quality of life, whether it’s enhancing the arts or providing parks. All those things contribute to a better community, and to drawing CEOs from companies to your area to decide to locate there.
One of the Houston myths is that we all drive SUVs and will never walk or ride rail, even though many Houstonians do not drive. Do you think that walkability and bicycle safety are regionally significant transportation concerns?
They’re an important part of the overall transportation model. New urbanism and livable lifestyle centers are becoming the trend. Rightfully so. But really, we’re being retroactive. We’re going back to what the best of the original cities in this country had to offer, and deleting the bad things. That’s what new urbanism is, and transportation-oriented development. If we’re going to manage the growth that’s coming our way, those are two important things that we have to address.
Many leaders in the Houston-Galveston area support the creation of the Grand Parkway, yet many organizations believe that its construction will be detrimental to organizations and citizens and contribute to sprawl. How is this project objectively better for people in the Houston area than other uses of transportation funds?
Well, I’m not an advocate of the Grand Parkway. At least the portion on the north side. I understand the long-term complications, but I think we – I mean, the long term viability of it – I think we’d be better served, for example, to extend the Hardy Toll Road from The Woodlands through Conroe. And, I think our priorities are a little bit skewed on some of these things.
Is it important for you to consider social and environmental issues such as quality of life and obesity when making transportation decisions?
Absolutely. At the end of the day, transportation is – you know, we do this for the people. That’s our real mission, is to provide transportation for the citizens at a low cost, and a comfortable, safe environment. How we approach that is as important as the end result.
How do you maintain a balance between maintaining current roadways and expanding them?
Well, it comes down to priorities, you know – you only have X number of dollars to allocate. And maintenance – in most cases – is going to trump new construction. If you don’t maintain the existing roadways that you have, it won’t make much difference if you’re building new ones.
How would you like the public to be involved in transportation planning?
I think the public meetings that H-GAC sponsors are vital in getting the public’s input. They’re the taxpayers. They have a right to be heard. The issue of the Trans-Texas roadway, that was proven out. They do make a difference, as well they should.
How would you improve long-term transportation planning for the Houston region if you had every planning resource at your disposal?
I think I would make it a little less political, and a little bit more about what is most important for the region.
How you would do that specifically?
Well, that’s the question I don’t think anyone can answer.
Thank you for your time.
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