From the “I didn’t see that coming” Inbox:
Houston Realty Business Coalition Endorses Metro Proposition
Houston – The Houston Realty Business Coalition (HRBC) has voted to endorse the METRO Proposition on the November 5, 2019, general election ballot. The proposition seeks voter approval for METRO to sell bonds – which will result in no tax increase – that will provide funding for projects specified in the agency’s METRONext Moving Forward Plan.
Although METRO seeks authority to issue up to $3.5 billion in bonds over 20 years, restrictions contained in the proposition require the agency to issue this amount in much smaller increments that the agency can financially sustain. Moreover, METRO will apply for matching federal dollars which, with local funds, will allow for up to $7.5 billion in mobility investments.
“We are pleased to support this forward-looking bond measure,” said Alan Hassenflu, Chair of HRBC. “To secure our region’s continued economic prosperity as its population grows to 10 million by 2040, and to keep congestion from crippling our region, we must expand our mobility options in a fiscally prudent manner. We believe the METRO Proposition does that.”
The METRONext Plan includes 500 miles of travel improvements, mostly involving various forms of bus service, with a limited expansion of light rail. Specifically, the Plan calls for: 75 miles of METRORapid bus lines that operate similarly to rail lines at one-third to one-half of the cost; 110 miles of enhanced commuter service through two-way HOV lanes and additional park and ride lots; 16 miles of light rail where an extension is necessary to take existing light rail lines to logical destinations: 260 miles of improvements to regular bus routes; and many other service enhancements, including accessibility improvements for the elderly and disabled.
“We asked tough questions, and METRO worked collaboratively with us in finalizing the Plan,” said Brad Freels, Vice Chair of HRBC. “We are pleased with the financial constraints on bond issuances contained in the proposition. It is obviously also highly important that the Plan will not result in a tax increase. We strongly encourage everyone to support and vote for the METRO Proposition.”
To receive an endorsement from HRBC, issues must receive a 2/3 majority of Trustee votes. No money was accepted from candidates in our endorsement process.
Like I said, I didn’t see that one coming. You can visit Houston Realty Business Coalition’s web site to learn more about them. Look at their membership list and you can see why I’m surprised.
I talked with two HRBC insiders, one on each side. The one on the “against” side said:
How did that first drainage fee work out? Never believe what government promises!!
HRBC cut a deal and “changed” everything. Do I think a promise will be kept?
The one on the “for” side had this to say:
HRBC supports the proposition because it’s a fair plan that has built in financial constraints and mobility is a big issue. HRBC decided it could roll up its sleeves and work with local leaders to try and steer ideas or just complain from the cheap seats. Working with Tory Gattis, HRBC along with others negotiated with METRO to limit rail to one line to Hobby and BRT and HOV lanes using existing infrastructure and can be converted to autonomous vehicles or platooning high speed vehicles.
Interesting. I can see the logic of taking a seat at the table and working to improve a METRO proposal that would have been larger, relied more on trains and was going to pass regardless of your opposition.
But….we’re talking about METRO!!! An organization that has proven time and time again that they are not good stewards of taxpayer money. Like the guy above, ask yourself: Do I think a promise will be kept?
Back in July over at blogHOUSTON.com, Neal Meyer wrote an excellent analysis of the METRO NEXT proposal, as well as adding in a bunch of METRO history.
The METRO Next referendum, with plans that are yet not finalized, has envisioned extending the Southeast rail line to Hobby Airport. The agency has also proposed extending a rail line down Washington Avenue. Given that Houston now has 16 years of experience with rail, it is highly likely that any rail line that is built to Hobby Airport will not draw more than a few thousand patrons per day since Hobby Airport serves 13 million passengers per year, or some 35,000-40,000 passengers per day. If 10% of those passengers are coming from or going to downtown Houston, that amounts to 3,500-4,000 patrons per day. Likewise, since METRO already has a bus route down Washington Avenue, the #85 Washington Avenue route, which runs for a distance of 20+ miles all the way up to the area around Greenspoint Mall, it behooves a potential METRO referendum voter to know that this bus route achieves 6,500 boardings per day for the entire route. It is highly likely that rail-line extensions built along both Washington Avenue and to Hobby Airport will likely suffer the same high cost and dismal ridership fates as the Southeast corridor and Harrisburg lines. Houstonians would be far better served, and would save over $1 billion of tax money, if METRO were to simply run buses and shuttles along Washington Avenue and to Hobby Airport.
It’s a long read but well worth it. The paragraph I quoted shows both sides of the argument above. First, it shows that the 16 miles of additional rail are going to be yet another boondoggle waste of taxpayer money. Second, it shows the changes that are referenced by the “for” argument in that the long dreamed of Washington corridor rail line is not included.
The angle that fascinates me the most politically is this: does this signal that some Republicans are returning to the pro-business model that was followed by the Republican Party until the Reagan revolution? Or is this simply an acknowledgement that Harris County is solidly Democratic and the fight will be to slim down their spending habits?