Houston’s Post Oak Boulevard bus project $31 million over budget

Post Oak Boulevard

HOUSTON — A project putting dedicated bus lanes down the middle of Post Oak Boulevard — one of the wealthiest stretches of roads in Houston — is $31 million over its original budget.

The project is spearheaded by the Uptown Authority and the Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, known as a TIRZ, and is a project that Uptown said would “transform” Post Oak Boulevard with mixed-use development, pedestrian improvements, and dedicated lanes for bus rapid transit.

The cost of the project when it was first proposed three years ago was $196 million.

Uptown has now asked for an additional $31 million for the project, officials speaking on behalf of Uptown said at a recent Transportation Policy Council hearing.

The project has long been controversial as it has been opposed by key businesses and residents of the area in large part because the bus rapid transit will enlarge the boulevard, and some businesses will lose their parking as a result. Other concerns include traffic clogs because of the additional bus system.

Uptown has maintained that the bus lanes will help reduce traffic, as more people will opt to use the bus for traveling to work or for a shopping trip at Post Oak’s high-end stores.

Columnist and former Kemah Mayor Bill King called the project “one of the worst public works boondoggles in our region.”

From King’s column:

This project is crony capitalism at its worst. TIRZs were originally established to help “blighted” neighborhoods. This project is using $200 million of taxpayer money to subsidize a project intended to benefit the most expensive real estate in the City. In the meantime, there are many neighborhoods in our City going begging for basic services, like flood control projects!

And trust me, this will not be the last time Uptown comes back with its hand out.

On Thursday, Uptown President John Breeding described the project as being “on budget.”

“The project is fully funded,” he told The Texas Monitor by email.

The question that Uptown is raising is this, Breeding said: “Do we attempt to capture additional federal funding to reimburse the city for utility costs associated with the project?”

At the Sept. 22 meeting of the Transportation Policy Council — a powerful committee of the Houston-Galveston Area Council — officials speaking on behalf of Uptown said they believed this would be the last time that additional public money would be needed.

The additional costs were related to “communications and fare collection,” they said.

They also described the additional costs as “minor.”

“There are some additional costs that were not anticipated by Uptown,” said David Wurdlow of the Houston-Galveston Area Council.

Harris County Commissioners Court Judge Ed Emmett, who sits on the council, did not appear pleased with the increased budget.

“I think this project is going to become more and more and more controversial,” Emmett said. “At what point do we say, ‘You know, you can keep building and building and generating more traffic in an area?’ At some point you have to say ‘really?’ … I haven’t liked that project from the beginning.”

He added: “If we start adding costs to it, the public is going to get more and more interested in that project.”

Also from King:

(T)he project will undoubtedly impede the flow of vehicular traffic in the Galleria.  There is a particularly problematic proposed interchange at Post Oak and the Loop where the bus lanes will transition onto the Loop. I cannot imagine that traffic will not be permanently snarled at that intersection.

But regardless of the future effectiveness of the project, it is simply an idiotic use of $200 million of taxpayer money. I could come up with a list of at least 100 other transportation projects that would represent a better value.

This project was pushed through by TIRZ bureaucrats trying to justify their existence and special interests along Post Oak, some of whom have received multi-million dollar right-of-way payouts.  It is wildly unpopular with most of the businesses along Post Oak and residents in the Galleria. Post Oak went from being one of our signature boulevards to a war zone. I cannot even imagine what a nightmare the traffic is going to be during the holiday season.

The vote on the additional budget ask is scheduled for Oct. 27.

Trent Seibert can be reached at 832-258-6119 or [email protected].

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Trent is an award-winning editor and reporter, who has previously worked The Denver Post, The (Nashville) Tennessean, and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Most recently, he was the investigative producer for Houston’s KTRK-TV ABC-13. He was also the editor and founder of Texas Watchdog, a ground-breaking news group that paved the way for this project. Trent is a teacher of journalism skills, and has shown hundreds of reporters and citizen-journalists how to use public records, databases and journalism tools to keep a watchful eye on their own local government.