While the multibillion-dollar bond would provide regional transportation projects through 2040, some community leaders are concerned the bond does not do enough to address mobility issues in the Kingwood and Humble areas.
“It’s important for people to remember that a lot of these decisions being made will not be made without robust community participation,” said Clint Habert, METRO’s vice president of system and capital planning. “We don’t build things that people don’t want.”
Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s annual Urban Mobility Report released in August showed the average Houston-area commuter spent 75 hours stuck in traffic in 2017—22 hours more than 10 years prior in 2007. TTI Senior Research Scientist David Schrank said public transportation services, such as light rail and park and ride services, are some ways Houston-area commuters can reduce congestion.
The bond is guided by METRONext, the agency’s regional mobility plan through 2040. The proposal features a few projects in the Lake Houston area, including a second park and ride in Kingwood and high-occupancy vehicle lanes on Hwy. 59, according to METRO.
METRO operates two primary services in the Lake Houston area: the Kingwood Park and Ride at Kingwood Drive and West Lake Houston Parkway, and the Townsen Park and Ride at Hwy. 59 and Townsen Boulevard in Humble. The Kingwood and Townsen park and rides transported 197,713 and 245,078 commuters, respectively, to Houston in fiscal year 2017-18, according to METRO.
“As a part of the region as a whole, both Humble and Kingwood … benefit from the overall improvement that we’re making around town,” Habert said.
Another park and ride
If approved by voters, METRO’s bond would allocate funds to improve existing park and ride facilities as well as add new facilities, including an additional Kingwood park and ride near Kingwood Drive and Hwy. 59, Habert said.
“This area of town ... would be well-served by having something with closer proximity to the freeway,” he said. “Quite a bit of the population that is in the Kingwood area in our service area doesn’t really have good access to a park and ride.”
Annual ridership at the Kingwood Park and Ride has steadily declined since 1999—the earliest year METRO data was available—from 430,372 to 197,713 in FY 2017-18, according to METRO data. METRO officials said the declining ridership may be due to Kingwood’s aging demographics or lack of accessibility for riders west of the current park and ride.
The project is still in the proposal stage, so construction timelines or costs are not available for METRONext projects, Habert said. However, he said launching other park and rides has cost about $60 million.
During the METRONext planning stages, METRO officials discussed relocating the existing park and ride closer to the highway—a controversial proposal that caused a stir among residents and local officials.
Houston City Council Member Dave Martin said he greatly opposed the idea of relocating the facility, saying the relocation would have put an additional 1,000 cars on Kingwood Drive during morning and afternoon congestion time. Martin said he has been assured by METRO officials the park and ride will not be relocated.
“What METRO would like to do is to capture additional riders that live north of us,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with their ability to catch additional riders, but … it will not come at the expense of closing our park and ride.”
Humble transit prospects
Humble’s city officials said they feel METRO has not met the city’s transit needs, as one of 14 cities in Harris County that give funds to the authority.
METRO receives sales tax revenue from the city of Houston, Harris County and the 14 cities within METRO’s boundaries. According to Humble officials, the sales tax collected within the city’s boundaries makes Humble the second-highest contributor of revenue among the 14 cities, with METRO collecting roughly $6.96 million from the city in FY 2017-18.
For the amount the city of Humble contributes, Humble Mayor Merle Aaron said he believes the city’s residents should have better access to public transportation. While the Townsen Park and Ride is in city limits, Aaron said many of the commuter service’s riders are from north of Humble.
“We want to get everything for our citizens that we can because we pay a lot for what we get,” he said. “We have very few [residents] that catch the bus and go into Houston.”
Aside from the Regional Express Network, or two-way high-occupancy vehicle lanes that lower travel times for drivers carpooling in off-peak directions, the METRONext proposal also includes 10 new Community Connectors, which would allow riders to reserve a ride to numerous destinations in their service zone.
The city of Humble is being considered for one of the lines, but METRO officials said a launch date for the service has not been set.
Aaron said city officials are also working with METRO to bring METROLift to the city, which would transport disabled residents from their homes to their chosen destinations.
Both Aaron and Humble City Manager Jason Stuebe said they support the bond referendum because they want public transit to improve in the city, and they also want the city to continue receiving funds from METRO’s General Mobility Program.
Humble entered into the General Mobility Program agreement with METRO in 2003 to refund the city roughly half of revenue collected by METRO in sales tax; other cities receive rebates of roughly 25%. The city’s general mobility contract is set to expire in 2024, Stuebe said.
Humble officials estimate the city will receive about $6.75 million in mobility funds in FY 2019-20. The funds can be used for construction and maintenance of streets and roadways, bridges, streetlights, sidewalks and other mobility projects, according to METRO. If the bond is not approved, Stuebe said he worries the funds will be revoked to fund METRO’s mobility projects.
“If this bond does not pass, in order for them to do the things that they want to do [and] need to do, chances are high that they likely will end up coming back and not continuing general mobility,” he said.
METRO officials said they do not plan to end the General Mobility Program.