Ad blitz will precede METRO referendum
Anti-rail group plans to mount an aggressive
By RAD SALLEE
© Houston Chronicle - 10/03/03
Coming soon to local prime time: Traffic noises followed
by a hard-hitting advertisement against the Metropolitan Transit
Authority's proposed rail transit extensions.
The 30-second spots, which will start running Monday and
continue through Oct. 12, are just the opening number in pro
and con media campaigns leading to the Nov. 4 referendum on
the agency's 25-year Metro Solutions plan.
The ad ends with "Metro 's plan costs far too much,
does far too little" - the theme that Texans for True
Mobility hopes will resonate with voters. The well-funded
group includes high-profile Republicans, such as U.S. Rep.
John Culberson and state Sen. Jon Lindsay, both of Houston.
Developer Michael Stevens and John Butler, a member of Metro
's original board of directors, are chairing the campaign.
The spots will appear on the ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox News networks,
as well as CNN, MSNBC and CNBC, said Chris Begala, political
consultant for the group.
"We've bought the four major networks pretty heavy,"
Begala said. "We bought Jay Leno on Channel 2 and Nightline
on Channel 13."
The group is drafting other anti-Metro rail ads, he said.
"So far we are at about $178,000 . . . including TV,"
a figure that only covers the first week. But more will be
purchased, he said.
"It will be an aggressive well-funded campaign. People
feel strongly about informing the public what a bad deal this
Metro spokesman Ken Connaughton declined to respond to the
ad, noting the transit agency is barred by law from political
campaigning. Metro has been running a $1.5 million "educational"
campaign about its transportation plan.
Paul Mabry, spokesman for Citizens for Public Transportation,
the committee promoting the Metro Solutions plan, urged voters
to read the ballot.
Mabry said the Nov. 4 ballot proposal, if approved, would
authorize Metro to issue $640 million in bonds - not $8 billion
as the ads suggest - to build light rail over 10 years, adding
an estimated 22 miles to the 7.5-mile line from downtown to
Reliant Park. Metro would come back to voters after 2009 to
finance the next extension.
Voters would also be authorizing - but not voting to fund
- an eventual 80 miles of light and commuter rail at an estimated
$5.9 billion, along with more buses and more roads, Mabry
"It's sleight of hand, trying to get voters to think
they're voting on $8 billion and just for rail," he said.
Begala said the $8 billion figure cited in the ad includes
about $5 billion in capital costs, $2 billion for operation
and maintenance, and another billion for debt interest and
Begala added, "The ballot says 72 additional miles of
rail. If you vote yes, you're voting for 72.8 miles of rail,
end of story. Once again, they're hiding the ball."
Mabry disputed the ad's statement that the proposed rail
system would not relieve congestion.
Critics have argued that the system would carry only 1 percent
of local trips, but Mabry said those numbers reflect round-the-clock
travel throughout the eight-county metropolitan area. The
rail and bus system will carry a larger share of trips during
rush hour in the area it serves, he said.
"If you apply the same standard to the Katy Freeway,
which will cost about $2 billion to widen, it would carry
about the same percentage of traffic," he said.
The ad also says rail proposals were defeated in Austin,
Fort Worth and San Antonio and that Dallas' light rail system
has "run out of money" and is "asking taxpayers
for an $18 million bailout." Voters in Austin and San
Antonio did recently reject rail.
Fort Worth voters in the early 1980s voted not to join a
proposed regional transit system including Dallas and Collin
counties, but no referendum has been held there on a local
rail plan. Begala said the ad refers to a City Council decision
not to pursue rail.
Dallas Area Rapid Transit spokesman Morgan Lyons said the
agency has applied for $14 million in federal maintenance
funds, but he denied this is a bailout.
DART's sales tax revenues are down, he said, reflecting layoffs
in the telecommunications industry. But DART rail ridership
was up 26 percent through August 2003 compared with 2002,
in part because the system has been extended.
THE FIRST 30-SECOND SPOT
- Scene: Headlines over shots of traffic, sounds of horns
- Text: Houston can't afford Metro 's light rail plan.
- Even experts say spending billions on light rail won't
San Antonio, Fort Worth, Austin all rejected light rail.
Dallas tried it. It did not relieve their congestion, and
now they've run out of money and have asked taxpayers for
an $18 million bailout.
Metro wants to spend $8 billion on light rail but move less
than 1 percent of our traffic - $8 billion and no congestion
Metro 's plan costs far too much, does far too little.