Behind Culberson, Federal Funding for METRO Blocked (Updated)

Photo by Dan Thibodeaux
Congressman Culberson has something to smile about. He got what he wanted.

Updated: This story was updated to include quotes and information provided by METRO Chairman Gilbert Garcia.

A debate on Houston transit was settled Tuesday, mostly by people who don't live here.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a transportation spending bill for fiscal 2015 Tuesday, 229-192, cutting off funding for METRO's proposed University Line in the process.

Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, included in the bill a section that "bars the use of funds to advance in any way a new light or heavy rail project ... if the proposed capital project is constructed (or planned to be constructed on) Richmond Avenue west of South Shepherd Drive or on Post Oak Boulevard north of Richmond Avenue."

Strange coincidence: the University Line is supposed to run along Richmond and go through Shepherd.


According to Stephen Worley, Culberson's director of communications, the congressman's staff spoke to 86 percent of property owners on Richmond Avenue west of S. Shepherd Drive last year and found that 81 percent of them were opposed to the proposed rail line, seventeen percent were in favor of the line and two percent were unsure.

David Crossley, president of Houston Tomorrow - an institute dedicated to improving Houstonians' quality of life - doesn't buy Culberson's data.

"We know that there is pretty overwhelming support for (the University Line)," Crossley said. "Every single civic association along Richmond supports it, so how can he be saying that?"

It's not that Crossley doesn't think Culberson is listening to any of his constituents, just a specific portion of them - the portion that donates.

"So much of what's going on with transportation policy in our region is about trying to find a place where people may be in 30 years," Crossley said. "Spend part of your money on the people who are already here in Houston. Don't be so focused on satisfying the whims of the people who contribute to you, who own land out on the fringe."

Whether satisfying the rich was Culberson's main objective, he won, and now METRO won't receive federal funds for the University Line. So what does METRO do now?

"Obviously I'm disappointed, but ultimately I can not predict events in the future," said METRO Chairman Gilbert Garcia. "It will be challenging. We'll just have to see how things evolve eventually in that time."

Garcia said METRO's current focus is increasing bus ridership, and completing the Red, Southeast and East End rail lines - goals the 2015 federal transportation spending bill doesn't hamper.

"Recent events in Washington are not going to affect those priorities," Garcia said.

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I live in Dallas, but I have family in the Houston area, and I've followed this issue. For three decades, Houstonians have elected representatives, both in Washington and in the mayoral office, that have undercut the interests of their own community. Houston would have been ahead of Dallas in LRT development were it not for a last-minute smear campaign to defeat a pro-rail mayoral contestant based on false rumors. And then there were Tom Delay's hijinks. That big-money interests can continue to overrule the interests of the people of Houston time and time again is shameful!

At least here in Dallas, our representatives in Washington always put on a bipartisan, united front in support of public transit.


Light rail isn't improving anyone's life. It destroys the businesses along the route during construction. the hundreds of people that use rail each day don't even begin to cover the huge costs to build. 5 miles of the north red line cost $755 Million dollars. 

Mauni Mehrizi
Mauni Mehrizi

Turn the damn HOV lanes into rail lines. Putting parking garages out in the burbs for them to park. That should put a dent in traffic.

Travis Langdon
Travis Langdon

the Uptown Line is NOT needed and will only make things worse.. so good!


"Every single civic association along Richmond supports it, so how can he be saying that?" Crossley said.

That is not even close to being true.  Having been located in this debate, I can state as fact, Afton Oaks is NOT in favor of rail being anywhere near them.

Some in Sunset Terrace are not wildly enthusiastic about rail rolling behind their houses but  realize the inevitability of rail in Houston.  They do want METRO to keep promises made to them by Frank Wilson and subsequent METRO leaders.

Frankly, no pun intended, rail should go further along Richmond to pick up the apartment complexes nearer to Richmond but that won't happen due to Afton Oaks political pressure.  I recall having this discussion with Frank Wilson. I remember him relating to me about how all the West University folks are excited about walking a half mile plus in the Houston heat to pick up the rail at Westpark.  Does anyone really think that will happen? METRO's apartment dweller numbers that they spout off are often outdated - that is something to ask about.  You will probably be lied to unless you really dig.  Seriously.

Dylan Osborne
Dylan Osborne

Its a damn shame he refuses to allow progress on badly needed mass transit because a small handful of businesses are able to pay him off.

Sara Hall Roubinet
Sara Hall Roubinet

Sounds like the congressman is more interessed in Benghazi conspiracy theories than he is in improving the lives of the people that live in his district. I wonder how he gets around town.


@jberlat1 This isn't simply about making money anymore, it's about dealing with the fact that Houston is going to be swamped with more traffic than it can handle.

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