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Rep. John Culberson and Metro reach deal on University Line

Sets up another referendum

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Representative John Culberson and Metro have reached a deal to alter Houston specific anti-transit language in the Federal Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Bill, setting up a future voter referendum to build the University Light Rail Line on Richmond, according to a draft of the amendment from Representative Culberson’s office (pdf). The amendment was successfully added to the bill Wednesday, according to the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations.

Catherine Knowles, Representative Culberson’s Deputy Chief of Staff, explained the action in an email to colleagues:

As you may remember, last year on the floor an amendment was offered to try and strip out language in the bill that Rep. Culberson secured ensuring that federal funds could not be used to build a light rail project in our district that was never approved by the voters and that our constituents do not want. That amendment failed, and our language was included in the final FY15 CRomnibus bill that the President signed into law.
Rep. Culberson requested the same language in this year’s bill, and Chairman Diaz-Balart was kind enough to include it in the base bill (Section 164).

After seeing the language included again in the bill, Houston METRO reached out to us and asked that we amend the language to allow them to apply for federal funding if they hold a new election and voters approve the proposed light rail lines. Rep. Culberson agreed to do this, and in return Houston METRO has agreed to drop their previous objections to the language. We are offering the attached perfecting amendment during tomorrow morning’s markup with the support of Houston METRO and the agreement that they will not oppose our language in the bill.

Former Speaker of the House Tom Delay originally singled out Houston requiring a voter referendum before any federal funds could be used for rail transit, which led to the 2003 voter referendum in which Houstonians voted to build a 5 line transit system. So far, Metro has been able to build the North line extension and the East and Southeast lines which will be opening next weekend. The Uptown line is now being pursued as a Bus Rapid Transit line, according to the Houston Chronicle. The University Line on Richmond and Westpark would connect Uptown, Greenway, and Gulfton to Downtown, the Medical Center, and most of Houston’s Universities. The complete five line high capacity transit system would connect about 150,000 college students and over 500,000 jobs in four of Houston’s major activity centers, Downtown, the Medical Center, Uptown, and Greenway Plaza.

For the last several years, Congressman Culberson has included a provision in the THUD Bill singling out Houston and preventing the use of any Federal funds to build light rail on Richmond.

Houston Tomorrow led a 2014 campaign to remove these limits on Houston’s transit with over 1,100 Houstonians signing a petition to stop blocking Houston’s planned five line transit system. The Houston Chronicle has consistently opposed Congressman Culberson’s efforts to limit Houston transit, including a 2012 Editorial. The Greater Houston Partnership has also consistently opposed Culberson’s efforts.

According to the Kinder Houston Area Survey, 93% of Houstonians believe that development of a much-improved mass transit system is important for the future success of Houston and 88% of those people believe that it is important for that transit system to have a rail component.

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