Update: On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the 2015 transportation spending bill, 229-192, with a provision to deny federal funds for the University line. The U.S. Senate has yet to pass its version of the bill.
As the U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote on a transportation bill Monday night, Houston's vocal pro-rail forces are rallying their troops to oppose U.S. Rep. John Culberson's annual efforts to ban rail along Richmond Avenue and Post Oak Boulevard.
Culberson, whose congressional district encompasses the proposed light rail lines, has inserted language in the 2015 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development funding bill that would deny federal dollars for construction of light or heavy rail lines "on Richmond Avenue west of South Shepherd Drive or on Post Oak Boulevard north of Richmond Avenue in Houston, Texas."
"John Culberson is trying to split the region in two to favor the west side by using Congress to forbid federal funding for the University line that connects it all together."
"It only affects rail construction in the 7th Congressional District," Culberson's communications director Stephen Worley explained in an email.
Houston Tomorrow and the Houston chapter of the American Institute of Architects have sent urgent appeals to their members to write their representative to oppose Culberson's amendment. Houston Tomorrow president David Crossley says as of Monday morning more than 840 Houstonians had notified their elected representatives they are opposed to Culberson's efforts to stop the rail line.
"Basically John Culberson is trying to split the region in two to favor the west side by using Congress to forbid federal funding for the University line that connects it all together," Crossley wrote in an email.
U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, whose congressional district encompasses portions of Houston east of South Shepherd where the University line along Richmond is planned, has been more receptive to light rail after a poll of his constituents in the area showed that most favor it.
The language is similar to an amendment in the current transportation bill, which Culberson inserted last year, that prohibits the use of federal funds for rail on Richmond. When that occurred, METRO board chairman Gilbert Garcia told CultureMap that the amendment might complicate future funding but could be altered at a future date in a new budget appropriation bill. Currently plans for the University line have been put on hold while METRO completes two lines, the East End (Green) line and the Southeast (Purple) line scheduled to open later this year, and revamp bus service.
After the House passes its version of the transportation bill, the Senate will do likewise and any differences will be worked out in a conference committee made up of members of both houses. The bill is for the 2015 fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1, 2014 to Sept. 30, 2015.
While the debate rages on, one thing seems certain: Don't expect the discussion of rail in Houston to end any time soon.