John Culberson to Metro: Stop This Train!

JOHN CULBERSON TO METRO: STOP THIS TRAIN! After poring through financial documents on the Metro website that the organization’s chairman now says are outdated, Congressman John Culberson announces his opposition to federal funding for the light-rail University Line — because he’s concluded that Metro won’t be able to afford it: “Culberson filed a formal objection with the Federal Transit Authority late Tuesday, ahead of a deadline today for members of Congress to file any concerns. Otherwise the FTA would have given Metro the nod to begin preliminary engineering work on the line. Part of the 10-mile route lies within Culberson’s congressional district. FTA spokesman Paul Griffo said the agency retains the final say. ‘It is not a process that requires explicit congressional approval or disapproval,’ Griffo said. ‘The FTA will keep Mr. Culberson’s concerns in mind, as we do the concerns of all elected officials, as projects advance through our evaluation process.’” [Houston Chronicle; more detail in the River Oaks Examiner]

44 Comment

  • People need to understand the METRO has already design much of the line. How do I know? Well, the company I work for is one of the many locally subcontracted firms working the design of the line. We actually wrapped much of the work a few months ago.

    Whether you agree with light rail or not, Culberson does have a point regarding the funding. METRO is in a horrible state and is continuing seeing ridership declines on the rail and buses.

  • Culberson’s political base is out in the far west suburbs, where people don’t give a f#@k about light rail. It fits his political agenda to fight against mass transit, while promoting a billion dollar plus expansion of the Katy Freeway. How frustrating it is to have Houston area congressmen (Delay and now Culberson) who make it a point to impede the development of mass transit in Houston at every opportunity.

  • he’s a douche. There was plenty of funding for the I-10 highway from hell. They still keep beating the war drums on doing the same to 45, but won’t look at alternatives. Why is he so against rail. Not just another type but always NO to Rail. Does he not see the great system in Play in DC? After all this was the guy who voted no on the flu shot thing and then went himself to get his own. Again Douche.

  • He’s against rail because the cost are (I’ll use a popular buzz word) completely “unsustainable”.

    Yes, complain about the Katy Freeway cost, but the economic return in redevelopment and time savings blow away anything rail can achieve. This has been studied over an over again.

    If rail was a cost effective and made sense to spend money on, you wouldn’t have the opposition.

    Personally, I think we need the light rail in the inner city, but METRO is doing such a horrible job trying to build it. Just working for them from a design angle explains why they waste so much money. You also find out things like METRO board members have $1000/month car allowances. Excuse me! Why can’t they just get free transit rides. It’ll be less than a $1000 and they will actually experience the service they are providing us.

    And to the people that complain about the suburbanites stopping this. Well, what do you expect them to do. The majority of suburban Houston pay METRO taxes and receive absolutely no service except for Park-n-Ride in some areas, but if you don’t work where it goes then it doesn’t help you. Even with that, Houston Park-n-Ride service blows away transit boarding in the DFW’s DART system and Atlanta’s MARTA system for a much cheaper operating cost. Look, something METRO did right. Money wasted on light rail could have easily funded suburban bus routes that would have served many areas well. The suburbanites do have an good argument in this and as long as they pay METRO taxes they have every right to lobby their congressman to stop the waste of money.

    In the end, I think METRO will still get the funding because of the current administration.

  • Culberson just knows that the rich white people he represents won’t ride the light rail, so he wants to make wider roads so they can get their SUVs back and forth faster. Elitist.

  • Elitist? Elitist are the board members of METRO who cut bus service severely to the east end and 3rd ward and redirected the bus lines to force people to use the train. This cause bus users to have longer commutes which drove down ridership. Check the stats.

    METRO also has plans to condemn land all along the 3rd ward, north line, and east end routes and sell it to developers as they are legally allowed to do.

    Lets see, cut bus services to lower socio-economic neighborhoods, then condemn their land to develop it. METRO is the elitist in this group here.

  • KJB if Culberson could cut off bus service he would do that too.

  • “The majority of suburban Houston pay METRO taxes and receive absolutely no service except for Park-n-Ride in some areas”

    I don’t have children, yet I pay large sums of taxes to support local schools. It happens. Rail to the suburbs would work. It succeeds in many other cities, so why not here?

  • Buildergeek,

    Has he actually said this? Is this on his website?

    He actually complained to METRO about the bus service cuts (which also severely affected inner suburbs along I-10, US-59, and Westheimer. Spring Branch created their own transit service to serve their residents. They move more people then previous METRO service was cut. METRO has tried to kill this service. METRO cuts bus service. Culberson actually fought for more service.

    You might want to research before you make ASSumptions.

  • Suburban folk also, with proper numbers, have been given, by METRO, HOV lanes which most local citizens have little use. Speaking of budgets…doesn’t TxDOT have budget problems? I seem to remember them scrapping landscape on I-10 because of budget screw-ups.

  • Jeff,

    What do you mean by succeeds?

    Does it alleviate traffic on other roads? Nope. Never has and never will. A little fact about rail that never gets mentioned unless you have a background in traffic engineering.

    It’s is cost effective? Nope.

    A few cities have built suburban rail that provides a good service. To me, good service means rail transit time is less than car commute time. This works in Boston, DC, Chicago, and parts of NYC. In Houston, suburban rail studies by METRO, Texas Transportation institute, various pro-rail and anti-rail groups all reveal similar numbers in terms of commute times. A suburban rail commute will take longer than by car in Houston. If traffic on our spoke freeways was actually gridlock and horrible (which it isn’t), then suburban rail may make sense.

    There is active planning by several groups: Harris County, METRO, H-GAC, a freight rail consortium, and believe it or not – TxDOT. Currently the big opposition to commuter rail is not the congressmen you don’t like. It is UPRR. Unless government entities cough up the 4-5 billion dollars to improve freight rail corridors to accommodate commuter rail while not impeding the heavy freight traffic we have, commuter rail won’t happen. On top of that, UPRR has set the standards it wants commuter rail to follow in its corridors which are pretty much written in a way to prevent it from ever happening. There isn’t anything the government groups planning this can do except for spending tons of money which is will for the FTA to not fund it.

    UPRR has lots of customers that need it’s line. It doesn’t need another in METRO to provide commuter rail.

  • tcpIV,

    Our HOV lanes are some of the heaviest used in the world. Only one city that I know that tops us is Curitiba, Brazil. They have a very impressive dedicated bus lane system (no cars allowed).

    Our Park-n-Ride system moves more people than Atlanta’s MARTA system and DFW’s suburban rail system. On top of that, the HOV system is cheaper to operate and more flexible at getting commuter to where they want to go.

    The much maligned Katy Freeway center HOT lanes have proved to be a success. The TTI is routinely conducting studies on the system. The I-10 HOV system was heavily used before, now it user even more but the commute times have been cut. It doesn’t experience backups like some HOV lanes in Houston do and allows a higher volume of commuters than a commuter rail line.

  • To those who believe Culberson represents an elitist view on light rail, you are mistaken. The elite do not reside in his district. Rather, they are myopic suburbanites with no use for mass transportation and Culberson’s view reflects that. Inner Houston will move forward with this plan for efficient transportation that is respected by the true elite and needed by the proletariat.

  • I live in Montrose and I’m against the light rail. Buses are 100x better. Why ruin Richmond with rail like we ruined Main Street? Lots of cars use Richmond right now. Where will all the cars go. 99% of the traffic on Richmond will have to go elsewhere. The rail just won’t go where 99% of the travelers want to go, so they will still drive.

  • Seriously, for Swamplot I am completely disgusted with the quality of comments on this post. Where’s theNiche of Houston Architecture forums when you need him? I’d explicate the *right* answer to all of this but I’m too lazy and it seems it would be lost on this crowd. If the University line is not running by 2013, I’m moving to Chicago. :<

  • KJB: As we always know, everyone who thinks anything says it or posts in on their Web site.

    I take that back. As always, you are right and everyone else is wrong.

    I don’t care if HOT lane and P&R usage is the highest in the country. It’s about doing the right thing for all of Houston and the environment. Adding concrete is not the answer. I guarantee you if there is no way to get to downtown without sitting in 1.5 hours of traffic you can bet you will see people riding mass transit, as you see in other major cities, and the environment will be better for it. As we know, Culberson’s pet project I-10 also took just a little bit of land. Just a little bit. Not much. Would love to see a comparison of the land they took for I-10 vs the land they are taking for the rail lines. I have a feeling I know how that would turn out.

    And Metro has NEVER been a rapid transit system. It’s not their goal, so they will never be a “good” system to you.

    Landed: So people who live in Afton Oaks aren’t elite? They’re the ones costing taxpayers more money to re-route the rail because “Culberson keeps his word.” Culberson’s actions caused the light rail line costs to go up due to the detour around Afton Oaks, now he wants block it because it costs too much? Anyone else see an issue here?

  • Inner loop is expected to grow in population by 30% in the next 2 decades. Light rail is the only sustainable answer for the city. The only other option is to cut up more of inner loop neighborhoods with freeways fro the suburban commuters. That is not a realistic or sustainable option.

    Hopefully, in the next elections, Houstonians will vote Culberson out, or re-district Katy out of Houston’s congressional district, and let him live in his bubble.

    For those who do not want to pay Houston city taxes, you have the option to move to Katy. We are one of the largest international cities without a decent mass transit. Houston will do what the majority of the people in this city want which is a viable mass transit. We cannot build a commuter rail to Woodlands or Sugarland or Katy without the buy-in from those cities.

    Also, remember, federal funding for Uptown segment is approved but it will not go forward without Richmond line.

    Lastly, if the FTA money is not allotted to Houston for the Richmond line, it will move to the next metro uin line, say Denver, Minneapolis, Dallas etc.

  • irfan,

    It’s nice dream world to think a train will save the environment. Per passenger, the light rail system on Main Street has a larger carbon footprint than if the passengers had their own SUV. METRO tried to push the environmental argument, but when the study was done, they didn’t publicize it because it showed the information I just mentioned above. Funny how facts turn out.

    Commuter rail is better the longer the stops are spaced apart, but the suburban concept that METRO wants for commuter rail will put the stops too close and therefore will be inefficient.


    METRO’s future lines will displace more homes and apartments than the Katy Freeway did. Much of the space I-10 took up was already a road, old freight rail right of way (which UPRR desperately wanted to sell), and a high voltage power line (which now runs underground).

  • irfan,

    What the hell are you talking? Houston city taxes don’t pay for the rail. METRO taxes do. Moving to Katy won’t get you out of the taxes unless you are in Waller or Fort Bend County portion of Katy.

  • kjb434:

    I’m seeing a bit of a disconnect in your 11:04 am post.

    First you state that traffic on other roads will not be alleviated by rail. You even go so far as to state “Never has and never will.”

    But, then, in the next paragraph, you state that “A few cities have built suburban rail that provides a good service. To me, good service means rail transit time is less than car commute time. This works in Boston, DC, Chicago, and parts of NYC.”

    It is hard for me to reconcile the two paragraphs.

    Either rail “never has and never will” alleviate traffic on other roads, or rail can, and does, provide a method of transporation in which “rail transit time is less than car commute time.” Rail can’t do both.

    So which is it?

    Do you even know?

  • Rail lemmings kill me. Metreaux should utilize bus service at a fraction of the cost of at grade rail. Bus transit just isn’t “sexy” enough for the leftists hell bent on implementing a utopian rail system, regardless of the facts. If Metreaux spent a fraction of the money they’ve blown on the danger train and expanded the usage of hybrid buses, the mass transportation problems the Houston areas continues to experience would be vastly better.

    Culberson is a conservative not simply sticking up for his constituency by favoring one group over another, but a conservative promoting common sense, and fiscally prudent solutions instead of the typical twisted vapor facts pushed by the tools at Metreaux.

    BTW… I do not live in the boonies. I am an inner looper.

  • Random Poster,

    There is no contradiction to what I posted. Just read it again. The second paragraph does not state that traffic is alleviated in any way. All it says is that at a certain point, rail becomes a better choice for the commuter on a travel time basis. The traffic will still continue to be bad because the rail will never remove enough commuters to improve the traffic situation. That is fact taught in college transportation courses throughout the world back by mountains of studies. I should know, I had my share of them while studying to become and engineer. That’s why I made that blanket statement. Rail will never improve traffic. On top of that, when rail agencies and politicians say it will, people will be for it. Then after it’s built, the majority that were for it don’t ride it. They only supported because they though everybody else would ride it. That phenomenon has been studied over and over also.

    Rail only provides a choice. Right now, a rail out to any of our far out suburbs would take longer to get to downtown or uptown than our Park-n-Ride or HOV system. Why spend the money on it now. The rail corridors won’t go away since the are extremely busy. The only rail corridor in Houston to disappear is the one on Katy and it’s because the corridors along 290 and US90/US59 are more efficient and access more freight customers.

    Light rail and commuter rail are also two different animals. Light rail is like a shuttle buss or taxi that’s affixed to a certain path. Commuter rail is just like our Park-n-Ride service.

  • I’ll take a rail system over buses any day merely based on the simplicity of it. With rail, you hop on and ride it to your destination. The route never changes. With buses, you have to do your homework in determining where the lines run, at what times, transfers, etc. KJB can argue all he wants to about cost/etc… but the fact remains that rail is one of the most dummy proof systems for riders.

  • So Brian is essentially saying transit rider are stupid and must use a rail instead of buses.

    That’s a good advertising point:

    “If you are dumb, support rail! It’s not complicated”

  • “There is no contradiction to what I posted. Just read it again. The second paragraph does not state that traffic is alleviated in any way. All it says is that at a certain point, rail becomes a better choice for the commuter on a travel time basis. The traffic will still continue to be bad because the rail will never remove enough commuters to improve the traffic situation.”

    No, there is a contradiction.

    If, “at a certain point,” rail “becomes a better choice . . . on a travel time basis,” then, implicitly, traffic on other roads would be even worse “at [that] certain point” if rail did not exist. After all, if rail allows for faster travel, then the absence of rail must result in slower travel, whether due to increased traffic, poor intersection planning, or whatever.

    Accordingly, “at [that] certain point,” rail does alleviate traffic on other roads. Hence the contradiction.

  • Random Poster,

    “Accordingly, “at [that] certain point,” rail does alleviate traffic on other roads. Hence the contradiction.”

    You still didn’t read the post correctly. The traffic will not get better because amount of commuters taking rail won’t make a dent in the road commute times. Since rail has a dedicated pathway, it’s time is pretty much set. When travel times on road get bad enough to where rail is faster, it begins to justify construction of the rail. The traffic still won’t get better, but not commuters have an option. The reality is that most commuters still don’t choose that option even when it’s faster.

  • Why should people who will never get any benefit from light rail want to pay for it? The difference between taxes for roads like I-10 and taxes for light rail is that we all use I-10. Every single person in the entire metro area benefits from I-10. Even if you’ve never driven on it or even seen it you benefit from it. The only thing I get from light rail is another reason to sit at a stop light downtown.

  • kjb434,

    There is still a contradiction in your post, but I give up.

  • If there is a contradiction, then you will revolutionize transit though that has been around for a 100years. What I posted is based on empirical data and analysis performed in many location throughout the world.

    I’m not making this stuff up.

  • No jobs, no riders.

    Still, the man is a douche, I live in Montrose and he is my Congress person. So maybe he should listen to all his constituents. He’s as bad a Sheila Jackson Lee was.

  • KJB – Never said anything about more apartments or homes. I said more land. Or do the businesses not count in your book?

  • Businesses count, but generally a business person may not be as emotionally involved in re-locating as someone is in there home.

    Both parties get compensated. The things is, much of the commercial property affected by I-10 was leased to businesses. The land owner and not the business person real had to be involved in the sale.

  • Also KJB what I think Random Poster is trying to say, and you’re not getting, is that with rail, the traffic will be better than if rail is not there at all.

  • I understand that Buildergeek. In reality, it doesn’t work that way.

    Many studies have been conducted to demonstrate this and what they show is that traffic does not improve. In concept, you and Random Poster are making complete sense, but real life has never shown that to have happen.

  • I never said traffic would improve. I’m saying that traffic will be better with rail than without.

  • And I’m saying it won’t. It won’t even delay future upgrades to add capacity to roads.

    Lets say a commuter rail line would have been built parallel to the old Katy Freeway. The traffic on the freeway would have continued to get worse even if the commuter rail trains are full of people and running constantly during rush hour.

    It’s just a reality that transportation engineers realize but urban planner, cities, and anti-highway folks refuse to acknowledge.

  • At the end of the day, what we are discussing is what Houston will look like in 25 -50 years, not next week…

    A rail system (including commuter rail)will enable greater density, which reduces our carbon footprint and aids the development of walkable neighborhoods. An ever expanding freeway system just further encourages the destruction of the Katy Prairie, proliferation of McMansions and the spread of chain restaurants.

    The whole discussion about cost is a red herring. And yes, as jcorr so eloquently put it, Culberson is a ‘douche’.

  • And finally the voice of reason (Mies) enters the fray.

  • I like how extremely pro-rail people talk about how rail will promote walkable neighborhoods and all the other feel good things but forget history.

    The first suburbs were created by rail. Rail was a transportation form used by the elite over the poor class to move the elite quickly out of the city to the suburbs. Rail in London, Paris, NYC, Boston, and Chicago were built for these reasons and promoted a large expanse of suburbia.

    Early streetcar rail allowed a mass expanse of suburbs to be create here in Houston too. That far out suburb (at the time) of the Heights and lower Montrose were built because developers cut deals with the streetcar companies to run the line through the neighborhoods. All these people could have easily lived in the “walkable” area near downtown, but no, they had to live far out and use a street car (which expanded the so called carbon footprint of the citizens then).

    Modern suburban folks are no different the early street car users. They don’t want to live close-in and in walkable neighborhoods. Why can’t they have there place in the suburbs. Why does some idiot have to put them down because of there choice for a good place for their family.

  • A rail system (including commuter rail)will enable greater density, which reduces our carbon footprint and aids the development of walkable neighborhoods.
    I don’t want greater density, walkable neighborhoods and I sure don’t care about my carbon footprint. I’m not one of the mass of zombie manbearpig believers. None of these things is going to improve my quality of life. Having more money in my pocket through lower taxes will improve my quality of life. If you want high density walkable neighborhoods I suggest you build them with your own money.

    All you people who are calling him a douche? Did you ever stop to think that there are people in this world who have different opinions on things than you? Do you just assume that everyone wants to live in some kind of high density urban la la land. Maybe you want to but I don’t want to pay for your lifestyle. Pay for your own.

  • jgriff:

    I hate to break the news to you but we are going to be living in a pretty dense city soon….so you can take your suburbanite white picket fence soccer mom loving suburban driving to Dallas…Tool

  • kjb434:

    You are the biggest Dork on this blog…look man if your so against the rail then why do you still work for the company who was contracted by Metro…if your so “convicted” by your feelings toward the rail then why were you still their helping this project move forward….like MIES said the city is going grow by leaps and bounds and a lot of that is going to be within the two loops…and Houston should be even surpassing Chicago by population in the Next 10 years…so why not just build this and stop your whining…you sound those ignorant hicks who still want Houston be some cow town like lame Dallas…who actually has a rail system and is waaaaaaaay less dense than Houston…kjb434 you my friend are officialy a Douche…just move to waco or something…

  • The douches posting on this blog are pretty obvious to anyone with cognitive reasoning abilities and very much like the pot calling the kettle black. If someone doesn’t buy into your absurd line of detached reasoning (or lack thereof), the insults come fast and furious accompanied by flawed reasoning and inaccurate “facts”. Should all of us stoop to the petty childish behavior of the few posters around here that insist on showing their true juvenile colors of hatred?

  • I’m going to start with a novel idea for this blog – rail transit is not meant to reduce congestion, it is meant to offer mobility alternatives. Roads have their own equilibrium meaning that the question really isn’t how many lanes should a road have but how much traffic are you willing to live with?

    For instance, Bernard writes, “Lots of cars use Richmond right now. Where will all the cars go. 99% of the traffic on Richmond will have to go elsewhere.” The answer is that people will find alternative routes to their destinations. When the Embarcadero collapsed in San Francisco, engineers were terrified about where the traffic would go – they predicted adjacent roads would be clogged with new cars. In fact, this didn’t happen. Why? When a major route is removed and congestion rises above tolerable levels, people adapt by choosing another route, grouping errands together, sharing rides with a friend, biking, walking, or taking mass transit.

    On the other end, adding more lanes to a road or freeway certainly adds capacity but does not add mobility. This capacity induces further development and use because, with the additional lanes, traffic congestion initially decreases, and the route becomes more appealing, thus attracting more users. The appeal induces further use and development which begets further use until the system reaches a point at which it is no longer appealing – until it reaches an equilibrium. Therefore, the strategy of building more roads will never work in the long term; it hasn’t worked since we began building freeways for this very reason.

    Finally, I would like to know Culberson’s plans for improved mobility for Houston. So far I have been unable to identify a comprehensive approach other than build more roads / freeways.