Marking the decennial METRO/Culberson lovefest

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We’ve been busy the first half (or so) of the year — as tends to happen with folks who manage to remain employed in Houston’s energy sector during a major oil price downturn — so we were remiss in noting the decennial METRO/Culberson lovefest.

Apparently, every ten years or so, U.S. Rep. John Culberson decides he’s not liked well enough by the folks who run METRO, and that it’s time to make up. So, when Rep. Culberson struck his latest deal with METRO, we experienced a bit of déjà vu, as we could remember the last METRO deal Rep. Culberson struck a decade ago with Bill White, David Wolff, and the infamous Frank Wilson.

We’re reproducing Culberson’s 2005 and 2015 explanations to constituents of his deals with METRO below the fold. Of course, the 2005 promises of more bus service never came to pass, and the praise of the White/Wolff/Wilson METRO (along with the praise of Bill White for repairing the pension problems!) proved to be way off base. But hey, who tends to remember the things said by entrenched Washington politicians over a ten-year period, right? The important thing is the value Mr. Culberson continues to put on his good name!

2005 Culberson letter to constituents on his deal with the new and improved METRO!

June 13, 2005

Dear District Seven Neighbor:

Today’s announcement that Metro’s rail plan is being revised shows that Houston Mayor Bill White is a good steward of our tax dollars and that he has applied common sense and honesty to repair the problems with Metro’s rail plan in the same way that he repaired the problems he inherited with the city’s pension plan.

I am very pleased with Mayor White’s focus on giving taxpayers the best value for their dollars and on providing all of us with honest, accurate and transparent information on revenue projections, design and construction costs, ridership numbers and a realistic assessment of the fierce competition Metro faces from other transit systems around the country in a time of record budget deficits.

My good name is my most valuable possession, so I am especially grateful to Mayor White, Metro Chairman David Wolff and Metro President Frank Wilson for publicly acknowledging that I provided voters with accurate federal formula revenue estimates for Metro prior to the November 4, 2003, rail election, and that the revenue estimates provided by Metro at that time were inflated.

Majority Leader Tom DeLay and I have agreed to work with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Members of the Houston Congressional Delegation to help ensure that Houston receives its fair share of our nation’s scarce transit dollars. Leader Delay and I have asked for a provision in the new highway reauthorization bill which would give Metro the ability to use the local tax dollars it spent on the voter and FTA approved Main Street line as part of the local share for future lines. If Metro is able to persuade the Federal Transit Administration to approve this new transit plan, Metro will be eligible for up to $1 billion in federal funds over the next decade, and I will work overtime to ensure that Metro receives this funding.

Leader DeLay and I have also agreed to help Metro by leading a Houston Congressional Delegation letter to the Federal Transit Administration asking that Metro receive reimbursement for local tax dollars spent by Metro on transit projects that are later approved by the FTA. We will help guide Metro through the FTA approval process, and we have already submitted requests to my Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee to fund the preliminary engineering costs of two of Metro’s rail lines and to expand bus service.

It is very important to reiterate that Metro is in charge of its own destiny. We can help ensure that Metro competes with other cities on a level playing field, but in the end, it is entirely up to Metro to prove to the FTA that this new transit plan meets federal guidelines that require sufficient ridership to justify the costs of design, construction and operation of these transit lines. Without FTA approval, Congress is powerless to fund this new transit plan.

Reducing traffic congestion is one of my highest priorities, and I am very pleased with the leadership that Mayor White has shown in redesigning Metro’s rail plan to be more realistic and more likely to win approval from the FTA.

Thank you for entrusting me to represent you in the United States Congress.

Sincerely,

John Culberson

***

2015 Culberson press release on his deal with the new and improved METRO!

Washington, May 13

Washington, D.C. — The House Appropriations Committee today approved the spending bill for the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD), which included a provision authored by Congressman John Culberson (TX-07) that prohibits federal funding for two unaffordable and unwanted light rail projects in Congressional District 7.

“My primary responsibilities as a congressman include protecting the taxpayers and protecting the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” said Congressman Culberson. “This new law will help ensure that METRO does not build more rail than the taxpayers can afford. I want to thank Houston METRO Chairman Gilbert Garcia for working with me and agreeing to withdraw METRO’s opposition to my amendment with the changes I added today. My amendment guarantees that taxpayers and voters will have the final say on when, where and how much additional rail is built in Houston. I will continue to work with Houston METRO to find other areas of agreement where we can help reduce traffic congestion and give Houstonians back more of their own time.”

The proposed rail line on Richmond was not on the ballot in 2003 when Houston voters narrowly approved a light rail referendum. Culberson’s amendment to the fiscal year 2016 THUD bill continues to protect homeowners and businesses owners along Richmond Avenue west of Shepherd and Post Oak Boulevard who do not want the rail built, while also allowing METRO to apply for future federal funds only if the rail lines are approved by voters in a new election.

“Chairman Garcia has been committed to making METRO more transparent and accountable, and I am especially pleased that our agreed upon amendment today will make METRO the first transit agency in America to require voter approval of a very detailed and very specific transportation plan before they can move forward with construction,” Congressman Culberson said.

You can read details of the agreement of cooperation between Congressman Culberson and METRO Chair Gilbert Garcia by clicking here.

Congressman Culberson recently spoke with radio station KUHF about the METRO agreement. To listen to the audio, click here.

Who knew METRO leadership over the past decade was so outstanding?

John Culberson sounds like a believer.

Kevin Whited
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Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX