“This is a perfect way to get everybody all at the table,” said Carrin Patman, chair of the board of directors for the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County. “Then you have a document that reassures ... those that expressed very valid and painful concerns today.”
The Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Transportation Policy Council voted June 26 to form a working group to craft a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, that is envisioned as a way to secure commitments from the Texas Department of Transportation, Harris County, city of Houston, METRO and the Harris County Flood Control District around the North Houston Highway Improvement Project.
The recommendation to create such an agreement stemmed from a previous discussion by the Transportation Advisory Committee on June 19 amid discussion of Mayor Sylvester Turner's letter to TxDOT addressing community concerns.
The proposal was initially rebuffed by TxDOT’s top engineer for the Houston region, who said such an agreement has never been used to influence a project and that many concerns are already in the process of being addressed.
“We don’t need an MOU to tell us how to do our job,” district engineer Eliza Paul said at the June 26 meeting. “TxDOT is committed to working with everyone, all the entities at this table. ... A little bit of trust will go a long way.”
Other members, including Houston City Council Member Dave Robinson, said the agreement was not meant to antagonize or be too rigid, but to rather formalize the collaboration that TxDOT has been willing to engage in so far to address concerns raised by the public process.
“It’s not enough, we believe, to trust and verify,” Robinson said.
The agreement would be reviewed at a future meeting of the council and would have to ultimately be signed by all participating parties as well, as the MOU could involve contributions to support mitigation efforts.
Members of the Transportation Policy Committee also made it clear that construction on at least Segment 3, which calls for for over $3 billion in highway reconfiguration around downtown Houston, would move forward, though TxDOT is pushing back its scheduled letting date by one year to 2022.
Many of the concerns identified by the city of Houston input process were related to Segments 1 and 2, which are not yet fully supported under H-GAC’s Transportation Improvement Plan.
Funding for Segment 3 was supported by H-GAC last year.