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Michael Hughes

TPC Interviews

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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 10, Kristen Wright talked with Michael Hughes, a private-sector attorney recently appointed to TPC to represent the City of Galveston. Below is a edited transcript of the interview.

Could you tell me about TPC’s role in the region?

Let me just say one thing. I’m new on the board. I just got on. I know it’s a coordinated effort between various local governments in the Houston-Galveston area – to coordinate their transportation issues, and also to approve various highway projects, or to push various highway projects.

Do you view our projected growth as an opportunity, crisis, or both?

I personally view it as an opportunity. I mean, you’re either growing or shrinking. Usually, growth is better.

Can you elaborate on that? Are there any specific indications that the growth is an opportunity? An increase in jobs, etc.?

Well, you know, we service a greater Houston area. And even though this is a rough time for a lot of the country, this area seems to be holding its own. You can attract more people.

How do you feel about Gov. Perry’s veto of Senate Bill 2169, which would have required the state to establish a “smart growth” workgroup?

Established a what?

Smart growth workgroup. Smart growth is the belief that the Houston area should condense its growth, increase light rail, and make the City and surrounding areas a lot more walkable than they currently are.

Well, I mean, I personally think that concept has some merit. The smart growth, if that’s what you’re talking about, for denser population.

Well, if it’s done right, they could make mass transit a lot easier to provide. That’s one of the troubles of the Houston area. It’s been so spread out historically. From a personal standpoint, I find it nice that all of the areas even near downtown are filling up. They were pretty blighted 20 years ago.

As a member of the TPC, how do you maintain a balance between maintaining current roadways and expanding them?

Well, it’s a balancing act. The current, existing thing would be to maintain, and new growth needs to be addressed, too. You just do it the best you can. That’s kind of vague, but it’s all you can do.

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, citizens, and contribute to sprawl. How is this project objectively better for people in the Houston area than other uses of transportation funds?

Its goal is to facilitate transportation around the area. Galveston wouldn’t have the objections to it like some of the other governmental entities do. It doesn’t really come down here, but as far as I see it – from hurricane evacuation and stuff – it makes everything easier. Another option. Almost everyone was involved in that disaster four years ago, with the evacuation process.

Hurricane Rita?

Correct. After this last time, the Houston people were told to stay put and hunker down.

One of the Texas myths is that we all drive SUVs and will never walk or ride rail, even though many people in the Houston-Galveston area do not drive? What do you think the expansion of light rail will mean to people in this area? Do you think that walkability and bicycle safety are regionally significant transportation concerns?

I think they are very significant components. You’re talking about light rail, and what I’d also like to see is commuter rail from Houston to Galveston. That would be coming up next. That’s a project that we would love to see.

Many of the TPC members are elected officials, or members of large state and federal agencies. Do you believe that your position in the private sector – and your knowledge of transportation law – allows you to consider transportation issues differently?

Yeah. I’m representing the City of Galveston. The Council appointed me to represent them. I do a lot of work for railroads. I’ve had an interest in those issues for years. That’s some of the expertise I bring to the table.

How would you like the public to be involved in transportation planning in the region?

Well, the process before any kind of big project is underway involves public input. That’s always a component before any major project is decided upon.

Is there anything specific that the public could do, such as have more public speakers at TPC meetings? Are you interested in having more direct contact with the public?

Well, like I said, I think the process that’s in place at present envisions and encourages public input on various projects. I don’t have any suggestions at the present for improving it.

How did Hurricane Ike affect transportation in the Galveston area?

In terms of just Galveston, it increased traffic greatly coming into Galveston. I mean, you have a situation where 80 percent of the houses on the island were flooded. That required a lot of people to get temporary housing, almost none of which was available on the island. So, many of them went to the different places between Galveston and Houston. So you have them commuting back and forth every day, going to work, plus hundreds – probably thousands – of contractors coming in to work on rebuilding projects every day.

So, the first six months, it was really a noticeably significant increase in traffic. It’s started to get back to normal at this point. That’s just my observation. I would bet money the traffic-counting machines are in place, and they could verify that.

Do you believe that the residents of the City of Galveston have enough representation on the Transportation Policy Council?

You’ve got the existing membership from Galveston and Texas City. And the County also has a representative. I think that’s it from Galveston County. Yeah, I guess the answer is yes. For a county this size – compared to other entities, it’s got a seat at the table.

How would you improve long-term transportation planning for the Houston region if you had every planning resource at your disposal?

I don’t know that I’m – at this point – qualified to even give an answer to that. I can’t say I’m a planner.

Could you make a comment about the goals of the TPC in general? Their long-term goals?

Well, I mean, it’s to facilitate movement within the area, and coordinate between the existing little entities so that it all works in a more effective manner.

Thank you very much.

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