METRO board discusses transit plan expansion

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The Metropolitan Transit Authority Board of Directors began discussions this week on how best to expand and improve Harris County’s transportation system, with an eye on suburban commuters.

“If you live in Missouri City, what’s the point that gets you out of your car and makes you look for some other transportation?” Board Member Cindy Siegel asked at a regional planning workshop Wednesday. “Is it having an hour commute? What’s the tipping point?”

Clint Harbert, senior director of system planning and development, suggested factors such as the cost of parking, reliability and time savings affect commuters’ decisions on transportation.

“There is not a tipping point that will cause commuters to use mass transit,” Harbert said. “But there are tipping points on deciding not to use it again.”

The board plans to ask voters to approve a bond issue, possibly as soon as November, that would pay for both major and minor Metro system projects. Board members were presented with two timelines for putting together and approving an expansion plan, with an accelerated timeline culminating in a bond referendum this November.

Board Member Jim Robinson said he favored a slower implementation plan.

“We can see what kind of recovery happens with the sales tax, what direction the new administration will take with federal funding, what the legislature will do with current session that will affect transportation in future years,” he said.

Talking about transit systems in other cities, the directors discussed modeling Houston’s transit system after what has been done in places with relatively recent rail systems such as Seattle and Denver.

“For those of us who grew up in Houston without 23 miles of rail network, it will take more convincing,” said Board Member Sanjay Ramabhaddran. “Let’s get the next generation of Houstonians and see what they want to see.”

Board Member Christof Spieler said METRO should plan for transit over the next 10 to 30 years. Possibilities included additional bus service, light rail, commuter rail, and bus stop improvements.

“There are all sorts of things for making it easier for people to get where they have to go everyday,” he said.

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