METRO HAS CALLED AN ELECTION FOR NOV 6 TO ASK FOR CONTINUATION OF 25% SALES TAX PAYMENTS TO AREA JURISDICTIONS FOR STREETS AND ROADS
THE WEST HOUSTON ASSOCIATION URGES YOU TO SUPPORT THIS PROPOSAL
METRO CAMPAIGN WEBSITE
On August 17, 2012, the Metro Board called a November 6, 2012 election to obtain authorization for the continuation of the 1/4 cent allocation of sales tax revenue for road improvements by jurisdictions within the Metro service area. However, contrary to its preliminary action on August 3 (see below), Metro modified the proposal to allocate the growth in the sales tax after 2014 (the so-called Incremental Collections) 50% to jurisdictions within Metro’s service area and 50% to remain with Metro for non-rail purposes. The resolution and exhibits follow:
“A Resolution calling a special election to be held on Tuesday, November 6, 2012, for the purpose of submitting to the qualified voters of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas (Metro) a proposition to continue the dedication of the twenty-five (25%) of the Metro’s sales and use tax revenues for the period October 1, 2014 through December 31, 2025, for payment to Harris County, the City of Houston and the other cities within its jurisdiction for street improvements and related projects, as authorized by law, and limited retention by Metro, and with no increase in the current rate of Metro’s sales and use tax, and making other provisions related to the subject.”
METRO BOARD VOTES TO CONTINUE GENERAL MOBILITY PROGRAM’S 25% ALLOCATION FOR STREETS
The Metro Board voted August 3 to place on the November 6th ballot a proposition continuing their General Mobility Program (GMP) which allocates 25% of the one-cent Metro sales tax to jurisdictions for their street improvements. If approved by voters, jurisdictions will receive 25% of the one-cent collected within their boundaries. The Metro Board will vote on a resolution and specific ballot language at their August 17th meeting.
WHA EDITORIAL: METRO & STREET BUILDING: A LOOK BACK
History is instructive. It tells us why we as a community make the current decisions we make and why we have the expectations we do. In the case of general mobility improvements by Metro, there is a history as long as Metro has been in existence and some would argue it is why we even have a Metro today.
Metro’s commitment to roads began with its creation in the 1978 election. The plan voters approved with the 1 cent sales tax included buses; a novel convertible busway-to-rail-transitway system; and roads and grade separations.
In fact the plan sold to voters had 19 candidate street grade separations; 23 candidate railroad grade separations; and scores of streets throughout Harris County (depicted for voters in 1978 with the nearby map). These arterial improvements where to be addressed between 1978 and 1988 at a current year cost of $155 million—certainly a bargain by today’s standards—and represented 42% of the total locally funded bus, transitway and road capital program cost of $366 million. The electorate was told to expect the federal government to contribute the balance of the capital cost or another $844 million.
Since 1978 there have been numerous plans put to the voters and have met with success when accompanied by some version of the original plan, transit and roads.
To the West Houston Association this Metro history with roads is at the core of our expectations for the future. We think we share that view with many local governments who rely as well on that history.
We would add that maintaining the general mobility commitment is not intended to starve Metro’s pure transit programs as would be suggested by the forecasted $6 billion increase in sales tax proceeds between 2014 and 2030.
METRO CONSIDERS OPTIONS TO CONTINUE GENERAL MOBILITY PAYMENTS
The current 25 percent allocation of Metro sales tax revenue to jurisdictions for road and bridge improvements has been a commitment of Metro since its creation and was formalized in its current form in the election of 2003. That election also set September, 2014 as the termination date of the program. An affirmative vote is required to continue the program otherwise the funds revert to Metro’s discretionary use.
Metro is currently discussing among other options, a proposal to continue the payments at a value equal to that paid as of the end of 2014 which is estimated to be $150 million. The current transfer is $135 million annually. Other options would be to continue the 25% or discontinuing the payments.
This “Cap” proposal would allow Metro to capture revenue growth post-2014 from that 25 percent of the sales tax. Estimates place that amount at $1.5 billion through 2030. This would of course be in addition to the balance of the current Metro 1 percent sales tax which would grow in the same proportion and result in an estimated $4.5 billion through 2030.
The General Mobility program has netted $2.18 billion to other jurisdictions since its inception.
STATEMENT OF THE WEST HOUSTON ASSOCIATION ON METRO’S 25% ALLOCATION TO GENERAL MOBILITY
The West Houston Association Board of Directors supports continuation of Metro’s General Mobility Program for roadway and street improvements at a level equal to 25% of any future year’s revenue from Metro’s one-cent sales tax and that the funds be distributed to participating jurisdictions in an equitable manner and for the same purposes they have historically been.
The Board of the Association has carefully considered this issue over a period of months with input from officials from jurisdictions including the Metro Board, the City of Houston and Harris County. Our rationale for supporting the current level and distribution of the Metro sales tax centers on the following key issues:
1. Belief in a multi-modal response to the region’s mobility issues—mobility is a region-wide concern focusing on work-trips from widely dispersed residential areas significantly but not exclusively concentrated on eight to ten work centers scattered mostly throughout Harris County. Metro was created to aid in addressing that problem focusing on building a transit system and contributing to building and maintaining the roadway system. This roadway system supports the bus fleet and the overwhelming majority of work trips throughout the region. Metro has been faithfully committed to that role and we believe that commitment should continue unchanged.
2. Priority need to repair the most severe transportation related issue facing the community—while we have been focused on keeping congestion manageable under growing demand, the roadway system serving the oldest areas of our community is falling apart. The poor state of our streets in Houston cannot be overstated and no area of the city is immune from this blight. Rehabilitation is critical to salvage the City’s urban core. This was recognized with the passage of ReNew Houston and that response is taking shape. We cannot afford to retreat by withdrawing millions of dollars from that commitment which is what the proposed cap on general mobility payments will do. Our belief is the poor condition of our city’s streets is more detrimental to its continued growth and vibrancy than what positive benefits would accrue from a marginally bigger rail system largely duplicating existing bus service.
3. Allocation of expected revenues—by not imposing a “cap” on the growth of the 25%, Metro will not be starved for more funds from the growing sales tax. We understand increased revenue from the one cent Metro sale tax from 2014 to 2030 will be $6 billion. Maintaining the general mobility program as it is will leave Metro with $4.5 billion in additional revenue for your discretionary spending.
The West Houston Association Board of Directors reached this position on the continuation of Metro’s General Mobility program sales tax allocations after soliciting member comments and holding several regular and special meetings with Houston City Council Member Stephen Costello and Metro Board President Gilbert Garcia and Metro Board Vice Chair Allen Watson.
The West Houston Association has been fully committed to the general mobility transfer payments to all of the jurisdictions in Metro’s service area as it is a vital element of their respective road and bridge rebuilding programs. No jurisdiction could easily fill the void if the Metro funds were completely rescinded. The proposed 2014 “Cap” would keep these jurisdictions whole unless their building plans rely upon increasing revenue. This is the case with the City of Houston’s ReBuild/ReNew Houston program planning for which included the 25 percent and its growth. The “Cap” will cause the City of Houston program to lose approximately $1 billion over a 30 year period resulting in fewer rebuilt streets.
Comments may be directed to Rhord@westhouston.org
Metro Service Area and Participating Jurisdictions:
(Data Supplied by Metro)
Click on a route for schedule, map and fare information.
University Corridor DEIS materials available online (Link to Metro)
(From Metro Solutions) During the recent (Aug. 13, 14, and 27) public meetings, the following materials were distributed or displayed to help the public navigate the complex Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS): (All Links to Metro Site)
Also online are photos of the Public Hearing. They are on the Write On METRO blog posted earlier this week on this subject. Feel free to post your comments there, too. Keep in mind that the comments posted on the blog are not for the official DEIS record.
WHA Board Addresses University Line Issue in Letter to Congressman Culberson
Text of Letter to Congressman Culberson:
“The Board of Directors of the West Houston Association has a history of interest and involvement in the planning and support for transportation projects that impact the West Houston Region. Therefore, we have considered the recent proposals by METRO for light rail in the University Corridor. While the line that is the subject of the current debate is not within our sphere of interest, we are confident the outcome of this matter will dictate whether or not West Houston will, in the future, have a another major transit line extending into the western suburbs of the West Houston Region, supplementing the I-10 High Occupancy Transit Lanes (HOT).
The Board believes that the most financially competitive, technically competent alignment that maximizes ridership potential will best serve the greater Houston community and should be chosen by METRO. The needs of the overall community should come before the desires and interests of a small group of residents and businesses. While their interests should be considered, these individual interests must not dictate progress for the community as a whole.
Recent history informs us that to provide greater mobility for the largest number of people, some will unfortunately not be pleased with the solution. In the short term, a few most affected by a particular decision will find progress for the overall community will not be in alignment with their individual desires. However, that does not, and should not, mean that we cannot have progress if that project meets or exceeds our collective demands for mobility, efficiency and quality, and the greater good is served.
Examples of the greater good being served are found in practically every major public infrastructure project— Interstate 10 reconstruction, Bayport Terminal, and Intercontinental Airport expansion are recent examples. As you know so well, in each case every effort was made to minimize negative impacts, however there were those in close proximity to these projects who were and remain opposed, no matter the rationale. Our region is going to grow by 4,000,000 persons over the next 30 years with the majority of them locating in the western half of the region. We will face these problems repeatedly, but in the end, those charged with leadership must make the decision that is the right decision for the region.
The future of an efficient transportation system in West Houston must involve transit as well as a full complement of freeways, tollways and major thoroughfares. To meet this goal, we believe the long-term future of West Houston is best served if we preserve the option for transit in the Richmond/Westpark Corridor west to northern Fort Bend County. Choosing a less than optimum alignment in the existing University line may not only foreclose a future link to West Houston, it may well jeopardize funding for the entire University line.
We appreciate your leadership on mobility issues and particularly on the Interstate 10 project. We believe difficult bold decisions and leadership can and will continue to make a difference as the Houston region plans and implements future mobility projects.”
METRO’s New 2005 Regional Transit Implementation
In June, 2005, Metro announced an implementation strategy for its 2003 METRO Solutions plan. “The program calls for $1.3 billion in high quality guideway rapid transit. Fifty-five percent (55%), or slightly over $700 million, is committed to rapid transit rail services and the balance of the approximately $575 million will be allocated to rapid transit bus systems.” METRO will seek 50% federal funding for Phase 2. As part of the financing program, METRO will receive federal credit for $335 million of local funds spent for the Main Street LRT.
The plan calls for laying rail for eventual use to the north and east of downtown but implementing service over those routes with bus rapid transit vehicles (BRT). According to METRO, when ridership warrants, the lines will be converted to rail. According to Metro President Frank Wilson, the lines to the north and south could not compete as LRT against proposals from other cities for federal funding.
The plan calls for an accelerated east/west line from east Houston to the Uptown/Galleria area crossing the existing Main Street light rail line in the vicinity of Mid-Town. This line will be planned both for LRT and BRT with implementation of BRT necessitated if it can not compete for federal funds as LRT with proposals from other cities.
The West Houston Area will be served by a commuter rail line in the US 290 corridor (along with a new toll facility in the Hempstead corridor by TxDOT/HCTRA–see WHA’s US 290 Update Center); high-occupancy toll lanes on the new Interstate 10 West by HCTRA/TxDOT (see the WHA Interstate 10 Update Center); and a new north-south Signature Bus/Suburban Bus Rapid Transit route on Gessner from US 290 to the Southwest Freeway.
Planning for Growth in Greater West Houston