Metro NEXT Plan Earns Houston Realty Business Coalition Stamp Of Approval
At the ballot this November, Houston Metro will ask voters for a $3.5B bond, more than ever before, in hopes of funding 75 miles of rapid bus service and 16 miles of light rail while putting $600M into the local bus system. The plan, not without its critics, could be a game changer for Houston's Inner Loop, constrained by traffic and ever-widening highways. The plan was officially endorsed by the Houston Realty Business Coalition, with a two-thirds majority vote from trustees. But with a concerning lack of specifics, Metro NEXT's vision may be more of a dream.
“We are pleased to support this forward-looking bond measure,” Houston Realty Business Coalition Chair Alan Hassenflu said in a statement.
President and CEO of Fidelis Realty, Hassenflu is behind several high-profile developments across the Houston area, like the redevelopment of the 1.1M SF San Jacinto Mall and Yale Marketplace, a chic Whole Foods-anchored retail center.
“To secure our region’s continued economic prosperity as its population grows to 10 million by 2040, and to keep congestion from crippling our region, we must expand our mobility options in a fiscally prudent manner,” Hassenflu said. “We believe the METRO Proposition does that.”
The plan, which can be viewed here, contains dozens of projects aiming to be completed over the course of a 20-year timeline. Metro has said it will apply for matching federal dollars that could raise the investments to $7.5B.
The plan lists start and endpoints of routes, but not where the buses or rails will run in between those points. Critics say the lack of transparency about what will be built, when it will be built and where exactly it will be built is setting up voters for a false bill of sale, just like the last Metro bond vote.
The last time Houston voters went to the ballot for a Metro bond, a $640M proposal voted on in 2003, things didn’t work out as originally planned. Routes were decided after the vote, changing massive portions of the plan. Critics say the same thing can happen with this bond.
“I think the plan is as specific as the process allows,” Metro Chairwoman Carrin Patman said, the Houston Chronicle reported. “No one has to worry they are not going to have a chance to weigh in on a given connection.”
Opposition to the plan, like that from Harris County’s Republican Party, also points to the high cost of transit projects that have led to ridership declining since 2001. Transit has become a central point in the upcoming mayoral election. Challenger Tony Buzbee hasn’t officially taken a stance on the plan but has expressed his distrust of Metro as an institution. Candidate Bill King has taken the same tone, criticizing what he calls Metro’s decades of wasteful spending.
Metro connections can be a game changer for Houston real estate, but it can take time. Metro’s long-derided light-rail plan connecting Downtown and the Texas Medical Center is finally paying off with high-rises like Caydon’s 2.5M SF Laneways development built specifically for its public transit connection along the rail lines in Midtown, between the two employment centers.
A plan as bold as Metro NEXT could have the same effect on several other areas, connecting Uptown, Downtown, Greenway and Westchase.
“We asked tough questions, and METRO worked collaboratively with us in finalizing the Plan,” HRBC Vice Chair Brad Freels said in a statement.
Freels is chairman of Midway, one of Houston’s most prominent mixed-use developers, creating CityCentre, Buffalo Heights and the forthcoming East River project.
“We are pleased with the financial constraints on bond issuances contained in the proposition. It is obviously also highly important that the plan will not result in a tax increase. We strongly encourage everyone to support and vote for the METRO Proposition.”
Eighteen months in the making, the plan’s future comes down to the Nov. 5 vote. Big money is backing the bond. Moving to the Future, the political action committee backing the bond, raised more than $437K, according to the Chronicle. Patman has been involved with the PAC. Then there is Metro itself. Based on its 2020 budget, Metro will spend $6.7M to educate voters on the plan and another $1.8M for public engagement.
The opposition, Responsible Houston, has collected $6K from two donors, according to its Oct. 7 campaign report.
Over the next two decades, Houston’s population is expected to grow from 7 million to more than 10 million residents. For Houston’s disconnected employment hubs with tens of millions of real estate square feet of retail and office real estate, an expanded public transit system could be a game changer. Whether the voters agree or are willing to bet Metro can get the city there is yet to be seen.