Is Metro Rail the answer to Houston’s commuting nightmare? It’s definitely the most expensive option, especially for Missouri City residents.
Since the 1970s, Missouri City has contributed almost $80 million of its sales tax revenues to Metro, with the hope that commuter rail would come to the town. The proposed Main Street rail line is now a low priority mainly due to larger commute populations in Harris County, lack of affordable space to locate a line along Main Street, and virtually no congressional support. So, what does Missouri City have to show for the tens of millions of tax money invested? Virtually nothing. Metro has furnished several buses (fares required) to allow a few hundred Missouri City commuters to connect with the existing rail line. This lack of equity in reciprocated services has caused many residents to cry foul.
Missouri City has changed considerably since the 1970s when many of the city’s residents were commuting to the Med Center and needing a rail line. Now, the majority of the city’s commuters are commuting to downtown or other business centers in west Houston.
Moreover, Missouri City’s residents are noticing that the City is not competitive, that development of their area has been stifled by the Metro appropriations, and that other nearby cities including Sugar Land are free to use their (unallocated to Metro) sales tax revenues to incentivize development. Highway 6 development in Missouri City has been significantly impacted with the larger, better known companies and restaurants unwilling to locate there without City financial support.
Metro’s contract with Missouri City has some disturbing facets, the first being that Metro has no apparent obligation to return the City’s funds if no rail line is built, making the City’s “contribution,” a real contribution. So basically, Missouri City has to live with a 1970s decision until their contract ends in 2025.
At that time, Metro will undoubtedly ask for a contract extension. Second, the contract prohibits elected and administrative officials from openly opposing Metro taxes. So, the City’s elected officials, the real voice of the community and any opposition to the Metro tax are effectively muzzled with a provision that if they do oppose, tax penalties will be imposed.
This provision leaves opposition to the tax allocation solely in the hands of residents to repeal, if they can gather the needed facts and support to do it. As expected, politicians with more tenure in office support the tax allocation, saying it was a wise decision.
The bottom line to all of this is that Missouri City taxpaying residents have paid tens of millions of dollars to Metro and received virtually nothing in return. There are those who would respond that this is “Life in the Big City.” Unfortunately, that may be true for Missouri City residents.
—Howard E. Moline