Imagine a gridlocked Rodeo Drive, or 5th Avenue in NYC filled with frustrated commuters. Speckled in this congestion are nearly empty buses intended to ease the traffic but are, instead, exacerbating the problem. That is what many in Houston are envisioning when discussing the Uptown TIRZ project simply known as the Post Oak Boulevard Bus Lanes.
The plan is to maintain the number of lanes along Post Oak, but dedicate the center lane in each direction to buses. Common sense says that reducing the number of car lanes will increase congestion for drivers. However, according to the Uptown TIRZ board, many of these personal commuters will opt to use the Park ‘n Ride program for the new bus line and leave their cars at home. It’s worth noting that Metro Chairman, Gilbert Garcia, has acknowledged that the statistics show ridership numbers in that area are low, but oddly enough they choose to move forward on the project.
The Uptown TIRZ has allocated $204 million for this project. The plan includes road reconstruction, rights-of-way purchases, and widening walkways while adding foliage. Given that $43 million was already spent on urban planners to create the project plan, it’s easy to see how some don’t believe the TIRZ board will keep the project under $204 million.
Many are expecting the TIRZ to quickly run through their budget.
Storeowners along Post Oak are concerned about the impact that the 24-month construction project will have on their customers’ ability to access their businesses. Other Houstonians across the city are concerned about the cost of this upgrade because they are currently also footing the bill for a failed METRO system.
The Uptown Houston PAC was created to combat unwanted construction in the Uptown/Galleria area, and they are currently taking aim at this project. According to the PAC, over 1,000 residents and business owners along and around Post Oak have signed on to express their opposition to the bus lanes. An opposition website called SaveUptown.com was created to inform residents on the issues. It draws attention to a previous attempt by Metro for a Katy to Post Oak bus. That line was ultimately cancelled because of low ridership
The sad but true story is that after 30 years of operating in a city that has now grown to 2.1 million people, Metro’s ridership numbers stand stagnant at roughly 16,000 riders a day. A quick drive down Main Street during rush hour will show you just how beneficial Metro’s similar rail plan was to commuters.
Those in favor of the Uptown project argue that it will make the Galleria more accessible to residents across the city. Others say the exact opposite will happen, that the addition of bus lanes will add to the already congested area and deter patrons and would-be residents. Because of this, they say that sales and property tax revenues will drop. With Uptown TIRZ being one of the highest revenue generating zones, that claim is to be taken seriously.
Being the 15th largest business district in the nation, it is widely accepted that Uptown mobility needs to be improved, but Houstonians seem to be saying this isn’t the way.
We have mentioned a number of times that TIRZ best serve the taxpayers when there is a high level of transparency and a specific goal in mind. When these unelected boards are given access to a pot of taxpayer funds, they will go to great lengths to find ways to spend it. Repeatedly the line between economic development and personal interest projects is crossed with little accountability.