KHOU-11 has posted a strange story from Dan Lauck on METRO and the Richmond light-rail route. Here's an excerpt:
Metro's plans to expand on Richmond Ave. may be in jeopardy.
That rail system would link Greenway Plaza, the University of St. Thomas and hundreds of restaurants and businesses.
From the beginning the plan was to run a rail line right down Richmond through Greenway Plaza on its way to The Galleria.
It’s called the University Line because it begins near the University of Houston and Texas Southern University and runs through the Med Center past Rice and the University of St. Thomas.
But that line has been in a precarious position for some time now and Thursday Metro officials went to Washington to sell the line to Houston Congressman John Culberson.
There is talk in Metro circles that the University rail line could be in jeopardy because of Culberson.
“Congressman Culberson has said repeatedly that he does not favor running the line down Richmond. He wants to put it on Westpark,” said David Crossley.
Culberson sits on the House Transportation Committee.
“John Culberson is supposed to bring home the federal funds for Metro’s expansion, not just the university corridor, but all the expansion lines,” said Robin Holzer .
Holzer, who heads a city-wide watch-dog group says Culberson, as a member of the House Transportation Committee, also has the power to kill any Metro proposal.
There are all sorts of problems with this story.
First, neither Rep. Culberson nor a member of his staff is quoted. No METRO official is quoted by name.
David Crossley is identified (later) in the story only as a transportation expert, when in fact he is an advocate for the Richmond rail route.
Robin Holzer is identified as heading a citywide watchdog group, which is not untrue, but writers on her group's website have endorsed the Richmond route (even as Holzer contends that her group will not formally endorse any alignment), which is relevant, since the only persons quoted in the story are those in favor of considering the Richmond route.
And Lauck is simply in error when he asserts that "from the beginning" the plan was to run light rail "down Richmond." Voters approved a Westpark corridor and, until recently, most people had every reason to believe that Westpark meant Westpark.
Those are quite a few problems in such a short story!
The bottom line is this: If METRO persists in attempting to ram rail down Richmond when voters approved a Westpark corridor, then there will almost certainly be litigation. Furthermore, that effort may well jeopardize funding from Rep. Culberson, who certainly has the political leverage to hold METRO to account for its Westpark ballot language. If the Richmond corridor is better than the Westpark corridor approved by voters (as Holzer and Crossley seem to think), then METRO should get the community on board and hold a new vote. Nothing I've seen from Rep. Culberson's office suggests he would stand in the way of that, and it's hard to imagine why truly democratic watchdog groups would oppose it.
UPDATE (07-14-2006): Since KHOU apparently didn't bother to ask Rep. Culberson's office for a comment, I emailed them a request last night. This morning, they were kind enough to forward me this statement:
"Yesterday afternoon I had a very productive meeting with Metro Chairman David Wolff and President Frank Wilson to discuss Metro's proposed alignments for a rail line along Richmond. I told them what I have told everyone who asks my opinion - my job description is representative and I will protect the quality of life of the people I represent. Therefore, Metro does not need to sell this plan to me but to the people I represent who will be most affected - the people whose homes or businesses or properties are on Richmond. I will decide whether to support or oppose rail on Richmond based on the opinions of my constituents, and the opinions that matter the most to me are those of the people who have the most at stake - the people who live or work or own property on Richmond. Obviously, I will listen to all of my constituents, but no fair minded person can disagree that I must give the greatest weight to the opinions of those people who have the most at stake.
"Metro claims that they are prevented from sharing the proposed alignments with the public until next Tuesday, so I have asked, and Metro has agreed to show the public their plans for rail on Richmond next Tuesday at the first of a series of public forums they will host where Houstonians will be able to ask questions and Metro can begin to sell their plans. Metro asked for two weeks from Tuesday to make their case to the people on Richmond, and I agreed to wait for two weeks before making a decision based primarily on the input I receive from Richmond residents and business and property owners. I also asked, and Metro agreed, to post the plans on their website so people can see them in great detail beginning next Tuesday.
"Metro has clearly listened to the public comments they have already received from neighborhoods and done their best to incorporate those ideas and suggestions into proposals for rail on Richmond. I have heard from a number of my constituents who are concerned about other possible alignments. Let me be clear, any proposed line stands on its own merits and must have community support. It is now up to Metro to convince the people on Richmond of the merits of their proposals. It is not my job to tell Metro where to build rail, or to help them sell it, but it is my job to protect my constituents when they tell me where they do not want Metro to build it. Any neighborhood in any part of my district can always count on me to protect their quality of life in the same way."
Thanks, Rep. Culberson, for the response. It's too bad KHOU didn't get one for their story.