TX: Houston Congressmen Again Battle Over Richmond Rail Funding

June 10--A provision barring federal money from going to development of a light rail line along Richmond Avenue remains in place, following a sometimes heated exchange Monday from two Houston-area members of Congress.

In a repeat of last year, Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, and Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, took their dispute over the Metropolitan Transit Agency's University Line to the floor of the House on Monday.

Culberson, as he has for the past two years, added a section to the federal transportation spending bill for fiscal 2015 that "bars the use of funds to advance in any way a new light or heavy rail project ... if the proposed capital project is constructed on (or planned to be constructed on) Richmond Avenue west of South Shepherd Drive or on Post Oak Boulevard north of Richmond Avenue."

Poe represents the area along Richmond east of Shepherd, where he says people want to build the rail line voters approved in 2003. He proposed stripping Culberson's provision from the spending bill, calling it an "inappropriate overreach by the federal government" while conceding the line deeply divides the Houston area.

"Debate that issue in the city," Poe said. "Don't let Congress come in and overrule the will of the people."

Poe rejected arguments that the money would be wasted if Metro was eligible.

"It is not going back into the coffers, it is not going to pay down the national debt," he said. "It's already spent. It will go to another city."

Culberson strongly rebuked Poe's attempt to remove the language, lashing into Metro's past history and noting his constituents west of Richmond bitterly oppose the line. He said he will continue to oppose the line because it is a waste of money, and voters in 2003 never intended it to run down Richmond.

"Imagine if you did not want to put a pool in your back yard and your neighbor changed the deed restrictions to make you build a pool in your backyard," Culberson said.

Barring the money in the past year had no effect, positive or negative, on Metro's proposed University Line. The transit system has been busy building two other rail lines and never sought money for any rail along Richmond.

At some point, however, Metro might move forward with a Richmond plan, and officials have said seeking federal dollars will likely be a part of that plan.

The House was scheduled to approve the spending plan Tuesday. If approved, the bill still must be approved by the Senate and signed by President Barack Obama to become effective.

Copyright 2014 - Houston Chronicle

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