Rep. Culberson addresses local concerns
Debate over prospective METRORail route continues in open meeting
U.S. Representative for Rice’s district John Culberson (R) hosted a town hall meeting Feb. 22 at McNair Hall. Among the items discussed were the proposed addition of 21,000 troops in Iraq, the planned expansion of the METRORail, the threat of Iran’s nuclear capacity, the security of the US-Mexico border and the role of nanotechnology in Houston. Approximately 150 people attended the talk, including one undergraduate student.
Culberson began the meeting by introducing the Alliance for NanoHealth, a coalition including Rice, University of Houston and five Texas Medical Center schools created to explore the medical aspects of nanotechnology research.
“The 21st century will belong to nanotechnology and will belong to Houston and the Texas Medical Center,” Culberson said. “Nanotechnology will change our lives in the next century as oil and electricity did in the last century.”
During the NanoHealth discussion, Culberson was interrupted by several vocal supporters from RichmondRail.org, a group that supports placing the University Corridor METRORail extension on Richmond Avenue. Approved in a 2003 bond referendum, the planned University Corridor extension will run east-west from the Eastwood Transit Center near the University of Houston to the Hillcroft Transit Center near the intersection of the Southwest Freeway and Hillcroft Avenue along Westpark Drive, with the exception of an elevated rail line above the Southwest Freeway near Greenway Plaza. RichmondRail.org supporters said the University Corridor should be placed on Richmond Avenue because of the proposed rail line’s proximity to businesses located on Richmond. They said the construction would encourage development along Richmond.
Those against the proposed Richmond Rail route argue that construction and development would be disrupted along Main Street. The METRORail was expected to be a boon for business along Main, but some claim slowed business development and increased land values, most notably in midtown.
“This is a symptom of the broken transportation process that I have to get involved in, and this is not my decision,” Culberson said. “Back in 2003, I said I would support whatever the voters supported and the voters approved [placing the rail along Westpark Drive. The measure] said ‘Westpark’, not ‘Richmond’, and that’s what the voters approved.”
Several people in attendance became visibly upset when Culberson said it would be ten percent cheaper to follow the Southwest Freeway/Westpark Drive route and ridership numbers would be the same for the Westpark route as the Richmond route. METRO studies dispute this. Many voters were also confused over the light rail expansion route plans on the ballot.
Jones College senior Julia Weber, who works for the Jones School, said a re-vote would probably be the fairest solution but thinks the route will have little to no impact on Rice students.
“I suspect few students can afford to shop or live in such high-rent areas, and with the [Rice] Village so close, I doubt many students make it up to Richmond,” she said.
Will Rice College senior Jossie Ivanov said she attended the meeting because she feels very passionately about public transportation.
“I think that for all this talk about alternative energy in our cars, we cannot continue to drive our own vehicles,” she said. “I basically think that the private car is responsible for many of the problems that our country has.”
Ivanov said Culberson was only there to promote his own views to people who agree with him.
“His own agenda seemed to entail dooming the lightrail to low ridership and uselessness, continuing the Houston tradition of maximizing comfort of the car at the expense of people, communities and the environment,” she said.
Ivanov, an architecture major, said she forwarded information about the meeting to the entire school of architecture and was disappointed that no other students attended the meeting.
After discussing the Richmond Rail proposal, Culberson changed the topic to the Iraq War. He said he does not regret voting to authorize the invasion for years ago because it was the right thing to do at the time.
Culberson said mistakes were made in the Iraq War, including firing the Iraqi army, but the constituents should support President Bush’s decisions regarding the Iraq War.
“Let’s give the 21,000 troop surge a chance,” he said. “Let’s see how this shapes up and get our troops out the big cities. We’ll get out as soon as we can just turn loose and let the whole situation descend into a maelstrom.”
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