The METRO Money Train
By John Biundo
Listening to the constant spin from the central planners
at Houston Metro, or their in-house publicity squad at the
Chronicle, the message is quite clear: light rail is finally
coming to the would-be-worldclass Bayou City as the result
of a virtuous groundswell of civic-mindedness. And the well-funded
political action committee created to push rail expansion
on the November ballot? Nothing less than a virtual orgasm
of good citizenship.
Pardon our cynicism, but whenever we hear this much hype
about “the good of the city,” we can’t help
thinking someone’s boots are under the wrong bed.
The PAC in question, Citizens for Public Transportation,
first filed disclosure reports in December 2002, a full ten
months before Metro’s rail expansion ballot measure
was even announced. We at the Houston Review were curious
as to just who some of those magnanimous “citizens”
might be. We should have been shocked to learn that more than
$75,000 of the PAC’s funds, as of the last published
report, came from commercial firms bearing lucrative contracts
with Metro – firms that stand to gain substantially
if the November ballot measure passes. We should have been
disappointed to learn that much of the other funds came from
real estate investors who would like very much to see inner-loop
property values rise as a result of light rail. We should
have been mildly nauseated to see Arthur “Butch”
Schecter’s name and three grand listed among dozens
of firms that currently have or seek contracts with the agency
Given Metro’s continued pattern of disdain for public
consent and Enron-style financial practices, these findings
are not as surprising as they should be.
While the Chronicle continues to shriek about the nefarious
motives of the “anti-rail forces,” it might not
hurt to take a look at the dense financial spider web lurking
behind the animatronic civic smiles of the pro-rail forces.
Records indicate that industrial giant Siemens “donated”
a staggering $50,000 to the pro-rail campaign fund on August
25, 2003. A Siemens Transportation Systems subsidiary just
happens to be the winner of the lucrative contract to supply
rail cars for Metro’s light rail system on Main Street.
According to the Sacramento Business Journal, the Siemens
contract for Metro’s Main Street pilot line is worth
over $120 million. Metro will presumably use the same style
rail cars on any expansion of its system, thus virtually guaranteeing
that Siemens will be awarded further contracts if the referendum
Also contributing to the pro-rail committee is Philadelphia
based STV Incorporated, which donated $25,000 on July 26,
2003. According to the company’s website “STV
is managing all aspects of the METRORail project including
project management, design management and construction management.”
Natex Architects donated $1000 to the rail campaign on August
8, 2003. According the Houston-based firm’s website
Natex designed several of the station platforms for the Main
Street light rail project.
Binkley and Barfield Consulting donated $1000 on August 25,
2003. The company’s website reports involvement in projects
including “METRO roadway reconstruction and light rail
LKC Consulting Services Inc. donated $3,000 on January 3,
2003. According to their website the company conducted a financial
analysis for the Main Street light rail proposal and an assessment
study for Metro’s new 14-story administration building.
The site also reports that LKC is “assisting SR Beard
& Associates with the development of Metro's 2025 System
Another message is made clear: if you want a piece of one
of the biggest infrastructure projects in the city’s
history, you’d better be ready to kick in with a briefcase
full of good citizenship.
Bear in mind that the bulk of Metro’s pro-rail referendum
advertising – estimated at well over a million dollars
- is being paid for through the taxpayer-funded Metro Solutions
“education” campaign, not a dime of which has
been disclosed to the public. Metro’s “education”
campaign is nothing more than political advocacy by another
name. So if you haven’t had time to write your $3,000
check to support the pro-rail campaign, don’t worry!
If you’re a taxpayer, you’re already a supporter.
We anxiously await a shrill Chronicle editorial calling for
a criminal investigation of Metro’s use of public funds
for political advertising, as restricted by Chapters 255 and
273 of the Texas Election Code.
The chart below represents a mere sampling of the PAC’s
donor base. The disclosure filings for “Citizens for
Public Transportation” would make a fine substitute
for the Yellow Pages engineering section. More records can
be found by visiting the Texas Ethics Commission, http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/cesearch.html.
|Siemens Transportation Systems
||$50,000 on 8/25/03
||Supplier of light rail cars. $120 million
contract for Main Street line.
||$25,000 on 7/26/03 and $3,000 on 1/3/03
||“All-aspect” project manager
|Carter and Burgess Inc.
||$950 in kind on 7/29/03 and $3,000 on 1/3/03
||Civil engineer for Main Street line.
|SR Beard and Associates
||$10,000 on 1/3/03 and $10,000 on 6/30/03
||Transportation consultant on Metro Solutions
|LKC Consulting Services Inc.
||$3,000 on 1/3/03
||Assistant consultant on Metro Solutions 2025 project,
financial analyst on Main Street project, assessment analyst
on Metro Administration Building project.
|Binkley and Barfield Consulting
||$1,000 on 8/25/03
||Light rail consultant for Metro.
||$1,000 on 8/8/03
|Architect for several light rail stations on Main Street
|Wilbur Smith & Associates
||$5,000 on 8/15/03
||Metro contract for computerized traffic signal systems.
||$5,000 on 8/21/03
||La Porte based firm specializing in signal construction.
|Wedge Group Inc.
||$3,000 on 3/18/03
||Employer of candidate Bill White, run by Lebanese Deputy
Prime Minister Issam Fares, includes substantial real
|Crescent Real Estate
||$3,000 on 1/03/03
||Several area office buildings and hotels.
||$1,500 on 5/06/03
||Re-developer of Gulfgate Mall, which was given a rail
stop after Wulfe declared support for referendum.
||$3,000 on 1/03/03
||$3,000 on 1/03/03
||Real Estate; Main St. holdings.