Behind Culberson, Federal Funding for METRO Blocked (Updated)

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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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