Houston’s transportation network, METRO, under new leadership and direction, has decided to back off several projects baked into MetroNext, a 2019 voter-approved $2.5 billion bond referendum. 

METRO recently announced that it would not be moving forward on the University Line, a bus rapid transit line considered one of the backbones of the overall MetroNext program.

The reversal comes after Mayor John Whitmire appointed a new head of METRO’s board, Centerpoint’s Elizabeth Gonzalez Brock, and changed the city’s vision for public transportation. 

The pause is a result of complaints about the Silver Line, a bus rapid transit line built in the Galleria/Uptown area of Houston and despite costing $193 million, has yet to produce the daily riders as planned. Given Houston’s current finances, the mayor said that METRO’s priorities will change as he wants them to use some of their money—a voter-approved one-cent sales tax—to help the city in areas like street maintenance. This would reduce some of the financial burden on Houston, allowing it more budgetary flexibility.   

The change isn’t without opposition. Houston City Councilmember Tiffany Thomas, chair of Houston City Council’s Housing Committee, issued a statement saying:

As you can imagine, I was eager to vote with other Houstonians to support the METRONext Moving Forward Plan in 2019…Unfortunately Metro has made a wrong turn by canceling the University Corridor BRT. The University Corridor is vital to Houston’s transportation future.

At-Large Councilmember Leticia Plummer also issued a statement:

With nearly $1 billion of federal funding at risk, if Metro does not advance the project to the next phase by June 27, it is crucial to move forward to secure 60% of the project’s cost. In 2019, 68% of Harris County voters supported the METRONext plan, underscoring the public’s demand for improved transit solutions that include the University Line.

Much of the general public’s frustration is due to METRO’s lack of communication about the changes. Many found out once it was reported in the news, rather than directly from the agency. It’s also important to note none of the $2.5 billion in bonds have been issued as of yet. 

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.