El Paso tries to kill Houston light rail

The Chronicle reports that an El Paso state representative, prodded by local rail opponents who can’t find any support within 700 miles of home, has attached an amendment to a bill that would effectively stop METRO’s entire light rail expansion program.

This amendment applies only to Houston, not to Dallas or Austin or San Antonio or El Paso. DART has never held a vote on the route of any of its light rail lines, and it has been able to use eminent domain to build them. And it applies only to transit. We don’t hold votes on freeway expansion, road widenings, or flood control projects. Under this bill, METRO, in order to be able to use eminent domain, would need to hold a referendum on rail or BRT line, describing the specific route of that line. Not other entity in the state is under that requirement. And this is a retroactive requirement — there was no rule in 2003 that METRO’s referendum has to specifically describe routes.

Here’s the criteria in the amendment:

(1)the planned route of the segment as approved in the ballot proposition submitted to the voters is changed by the authority after approval of the ballot proposition by the voters;
or
(2)the ballot proposition submitted to the voters did not specifically describe the route of the segment.

Item (1) does not actually apply to the University Line, since there was no route set for the University Line before the referendum. But it does apply to the North Line (which was shifted from Irvington to Fulton at the request of neighborhood groups) and the Southeast Line (which was shifted from Scott to MLK, again at neighborhood request.)

Item (2) applies to every single one of the lines. METRO’s ballot named lines and described end points; it did not call out every street a line would run on. It was not required to, and METRO had not yet done studies on all of the lines.

So this legislation would stop all property acquisition on all 5 new lines immediately. Essentially, some guy from El Paso wants to invalidate the 2003 vote, and he wants to do it by applying a standard to Houston that does not apply to any other part of the state.

Full text follows:

More in our forums and on off the kuff.

UPDATE: it seems the amendment has been removed. But we need to keep a watch on the legislature — this kind of thing can pop up unexpectedly in the late days of a session.

This subsection applies only to an authority created under Chapter
451, Transportation Code, that operates in an area in which the
principal municipality has a population of 1.9 million or more.
Notwithstanding any other law, an authority to which this
subsection applies may not take private property through the use of
eminent domain if the taking of the property is related to the
construction of a segment of a fixed guideway transit system,
including a light rail or bus rapid transit segment, authorized by
the voters of the authority and:
(1)the planned route of the segment as approved in the
ballot proposition submitted to the voters is changed by the
authority after approval of the ballot proposition by the voters;
or
(2)the ballot proposition submitted to the voters did
not specifically describe the route of the segment.
(g)If a court in which a condemnation proceeding is
initiated under Chapter 21, Property Code, determines that the
condemnation proceeding was initiated in violation of Subsection
(f), the court shall:
(1)determine that the condemnor does not have the
right to condemn;
(2)dismiss the condemnation proceeding; and
(3)order the condemnor to pay all costs of the
condemnation proceeding, including all reasonable attorney’s fees
incurred by the owner.

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