The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County’s board of directors unanimously approved a resolution Aug. 13 calling for a bond election in November that will allow the agency to borrow up to $3.5 billion over the next 20 years.
Board members said the bonds, which will not require a tax increase, are needed to drive a new wave of investment in mobility as the region anticipates growing to more than 10 million residents by 2040. The resolution also calls for maintaining the agency’s General Mobility Program, which allocates a portion of its sales tax collection to fund street and sidewalk projects throughout its service area.
“Without expanding our infrastructure—with a key component of that being transit—we won’t be able to sustain that,” board Chairwoman Carrin Patman said.
The bond program is guided by METRONext, a long-range plan that calls for improvements to the entire transit system, including expanded park and rides, upgraded transit centers, enhanced two-way high-occupancy vehicle lanes, 16 miles of new light rail—including a connection to Hobby Airport—as well as 75 miles of new “METRORapid” bus transit and 290 miles of enhanced bus service corridors.
Patman said regardless of the bonding authority, funds will only be borrowed when projects are fully developed and funded by other sources. The agency has identified areas of interest with proposed solutions, such as merging the Green and Purple light rail lines to tie in Hobby Airport, but final routes and designs will be done over several years.
Board member Sanjay Ramabhadran said if all of the envisioned projects get underway, METRO’s bonds will help leverage federal grants and other sources to reach up to $11.5 billion in total investments.
“Yes, we need more, but this is as bold a plan as we can have given the financial realities,” he said. “I think this is what the region is hungry for.”