Can Lizzie Fletcher Unmoor METRORail?

Will METRORail get a boost now that John Culberson has been voted out of office?
Will METRORail get a boost now that John Culberson has been voted out of office? Photo by Ed Schipul via CC
In one of the more stunning defeats of incumbent Republicans on Tuesday night, Lizzie Fletcher beat out long-time Congressman John Culberson in the Texas 7th District. It is the first time this seat has been held by a Democrat in more than 50 years.

While Fletcher campaigned primarily on inclusiveness and healthcare, one portion of the platforms on her campaign website should not go unnoticed. "We need to partner with cities, counties, and METRO to bring additional resources and improvements to our region," she says on her website. "We need an advocate for policies that both maintain and expand our region’s mobility infrastructure. And we need to make sure that Houston receives its fair share of transportation funding to move our citizens across the region."

This seems like a logical and rational position given Houston's congestion issues and rapidly growing size. But, she adds one additional note. "John Culberson has failed to be a partner in this effort. Even worse, his record shows that he has actively worked against expanding transportation options in Houston."

Some might dismiss this as campaign rhetoric, but the thing is, she isn't wrong. In a now infamous 2014 fundraising event at Tony's, the posh Italian eatery in Greenway Plaza, Culberson bragged about preventing light rail from expanding to a line planned for Richmond Avenue. "I'm very proud to have been able to protect Richmond and Post Oak from being destroyed as Fannin and Main Street were destroyed," he said. "This is the end of all federal funding on Richmond."

Culberson was long an opponent of light rail, particularly extensions that ran through his district. That same year in an interview with Citylab.com, he quoted the old saying "a Texan will not walk if he can ride a horse," adding "You are dead in the water in Houston if you don't have a car."

Of course, that fails to address the concerns over population growth and traffic. Also, it assumes that no one actually wants an option that isn't getting in a car and trudging through rush hour every day, never mind the many Houstonians who need public transportation to get to work or school because they can't afford a car.

The chief issue with additional light rail lines has been funding. At nearly every turn, Culberson blocked or impeded federal funding for light rail, particularly when it was slated to run through his district. This, despite the fact that he touted his support of the green and purple lines on his campaign website and has openly floated the idea of commuter rail, particularly along Highway 90, which has yet to materialize in any substantive form.

Now that Culberson's aversion to rail is removed from the district, it will be interesting to see if Fletcher takes up the mantle of public transportation and acts as less of a hindrance — or even an advocate — for programs that would increase rail and other public transit programs through the Houston-Galveston region.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke