Chron argues for Metro's new expansion plan

This editorial belongs in the "what took them so long?" category:

Last month, when the Metropolitan Transit Authority announced changes to its long-range rail and bus plan, many local officials and civic leaders complained that Metro had shredded its credibility. Resentment in neighborhoods east and north of downtown lingers.

The transit agency could have alerted the public to the coming changes and done a better job of educating Houstonians about why they had to be made. However, circumstances left Metro with few options. The agency, under the leadership of Mayor Bill White, did what it had to do to win 1 billion federal transit dollars and expand rapid transit.

Of course, what would a Chronicle light rail editorial be without a little "bad guy" bashing?

In recent years, U.S. Reps. Tom DeLay and John Culberson blocked federal funding for rail transit in Houston. The money went to Dallas and other cities. In 2003, Houston voters barely approved a referendum calling for expanded rail and bus service.

[snip]

The agency has been frustrated by its political opponents both voters and elected officials from the start.

Prior to the 2003 referendum, Rep. Culberson required Metro to specify its transit expansions on the ballot, before they had been approved by federal officials.

Little good that did, since Mayor White and Metro officials have radically changed the plan that voters approved.

After the election, the Federal Transit Administration changed its guidelines. Proposed rail lines that would have initial ridership rated medium/low would no longer qualify. The plan voters approved was about to go bottoms up.

Can you imagine? Rail lines that would have dismal ridership didn't qualify for federal funding. How dare the government do that? Why, that's just, just...so un-progressive! How can Houston be world class if it doesn't have light rail? Who gives a rat's rear end whether or not anyone rides it?

Metro's critics complain that there was no public input before the changes were adopted. True, but public input was secondary to political power. The support of DeLay, Culberson and the FTA was vital to success, and their concerns trumped the desires of local transit patrons.

WHO is trying to maintain their political power? Hey, Chron editorial board: look at Metro leadership and Mayor White! They are the ones who are trying to maintain power. And Metro's former chairman assured wary voters that they would have continued input:

Voters will be able to hold Metro accountable throughout the process because they will have the opportunity to vote to continue funding based on their experience with Metro Solutions up to that point.

And the grand finale:

At the end of the day, the altered plan will bring several billion dollars of transit improvements quicker than the original plan. Not insignificant, the new plan offers Houston a chance to move ahead in a more united fashion to ease congestion and pollution.

After decades of bruising transit battles, it's about time. For Metro's longtime supporters to turn on the agency now would deal it a blow it doesn't deserve and from which it might not recover.

If the writer has a shred of evidence that the new plan will ease congestion and pollution, it should be provided. In fact, Metro's ridership has dropped so dramatically, we could argue that many people have given up on Metro and are now driving their cars, due to the inflexible light rail and numerous slashed bus routes, leading to more congestion and pollution than before.

And of course, Metro's biggest supporters sit inside 801 Texas Avenue. As proof, we have the infamous Rail Memo which outlined a strategy for winning the public over in favor of light rail, and the Chronicle's editorial page editor, who is unabashedly in favor of light rail and is married to an attorney who has done legal work on behalf of Metro.

Here's a question for the editorial board: why should voters who voted for a specific plan support a plan that is now radically different? And knock off the utopian, blah blah rhetoric. Metro admits that the majority of the new extension plans are inside the 610 Loop. How do those of us who live outside the Loop benefit? We still have to drive (think congestion and pollution) to get to any rail service. We still have to pay taxes to fund a plan that mainly serves those who live inside the Loop. If this is the plan Metro officials and Mayor White (HOUSTON's mayor) want to hang their hats on, then they should be confident enough either to schedule a revote or stop collecting taxes from all those people who live outside the Loop.

Now, one last question: what big plans does the Chronicle have for #100? THAT'S a world class accident rate!

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 07/24/05 09:03 AM | Print |

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