Although it might have seemed like hell would freeze over before the Metropolitan Transit Authority and longtime Richmond rail opponent U.S. Rep. John Culberson would agree on anything, the two announced a rapprochement of sorts on Monday that may help the city's transit projects move forward.
Culberson and METRO Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia signed a "letter to our fellow Houston area citizens" — posted on the METRO website — that outlined the agreement, and it identifies seven areas where the two sides can work together to help reduce Houston's traffic congestion.
One of the highlights of the letter include Culberson's agreement to help METRO obtain funds for a proposed commuter rail line on U.S. Highway 90 Alternate, from Sugar Land to NRG Park.
Additionally, METRO agreed that a referendum for the Rail on Richmond project or along Post Oak would need to be approved by voters before it could move forward, and Culberson vowed to support the project if voters passed the referendum. No date was mentioned for a referendum.
In an announcement, METRO outlined the key provisions in the agreement, including:
- Support of a state governance bill with a regional focus
- $190 million in Federal Transit Authority funding for future transit projects
- Prioritization of 90A commuter rail
- $587 million in matching transit credits
- $300 million in federal funds over three years for buses, Park & Ride expansion and HOV improvements
- METRO's agreement to not oppose changes to federal or state law to memorialize the cooperative agreement
- No rail on Richmond Avenue west of Shepherd Drive or on Post Oak Boulevard north of Richmond unless voters approve
Support the will of the voters
This agreement could be great news for many Houstonians if it truly helps the city make improvements in public transportation. It was recently revealed in the 2015 Kinder Houston Area Survey that 65 percent of Harris County residents who have lived in the area for three years or more feel that traffic congestion has continued to worsen, and 43 percent of survey respondents also chose the option of "making improvements in public transportation, such as trains, buses and light rail" as the best way to solve the area's traffic problems.
This announcement comes less than a week away from the May 23 launch of the new East End and Southeast METRORail lines. METRO is also moving toward the launch of a brand new bus network, set to begin in August.