Voters in The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County service area will decide on a $3.5 billion bond Nov. 5, after the METRO board of directors approved a resolution Aug. 13 calling for a bond election.
If approved, the bond will allow the agency to borrow up to $3.5 billion over the next 20 years.
Board members said the bonds are needed to drive a new wave of investment in mobility as the region is anticipated to grow 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.
The bond program is guided by METRONext, a long-range plan that calls for improvements to the entire transit system.
“Without expanding our infrastructure—with a key component of that being transit—we won’t be able to sustain that [growth],” board Chairwoman Carrin Patman said.
Although the bond will not require a tax rate increase, most METRO funding comes from the 1% of sales tax revenue it collects in Harris County, of which unincorporated areas of the county, such as Spring and Klein, are contributing an increasing share. From 2013-18, contributions from unincorporated areas grew by 38.1%, while sales tax revenue from the city of Houston—where METRO services are concentrated—had increased by only 4.4%, according to METRO data.
At the same time, while average weekday ridership on FM 1960 bus routes in Spring and Klein has increased since 2015, ridership at local park-and-rides has decreased, according to METRO data.
Despite these trends, METRO Public Information Officer Monica Russo said planned improvements in Spring and Klein include extending the two-way HOV lanes along I-45 to Springwoods Village, providing HOV service between downtown Houston and Springwoods Village/Beltway 8, and adding a connection to the I-45 North Rapid Transit bus line at the North Shepherd Park and Ride.
The plan also includes adding three facilities along Hwy. 249, including a transit center in the Willowbrook area and park-and-rides at Louetta and Boudreaux roads. Community
connector service, which is a curb-to-destination shuttle bus that allows residents to travel within a specific zone, is also proposed for the Aldine-Westfield area, Russo said.
“If you drive, the goal is to take more cars off the road,” Russo said. “If you already use public transit, the plan is designed to offer new service and travel options.”
If voters do not pass the bond, Russo said the board of directors would decide what projects could be cut from the agency’s plans in the future.