Transit plans often hard sell to
By LUCAS WALL
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle
Convincing American voters to approve a transit-expansion
referendum is no easy task.
At least 28 governments held elections within the past year
that involved extra funding for mass transit. Only 12 of those
measures passed -- and one of those was later struck down
by a court.
While polls in Houston show support for the Metropolitan
Transit Authority's Nov. 4 transit-expansion proposition,
transit officials realize they have a tough sell. The "Metro
Solutions" plan includes a $640 million bond issue to
accelerate construction of the next 22 miles of light rail,
a 73-mile rail system blueprint, 44 new bus routes, expanded
HOV lanes and $774 million in new roadwork.
Voters in Orange County, Fla., rejected a similar multimodal
referendum Oct. 7. The proposed 1/2-cent sales-tax increase
would have raised $2.6 billion over 20 years to start a light
rail system, widen highways and build bike paths and sidewalks.
Pre-Election Day polls had indicated the "Mobility 20/20"
plan would pass.
But many Orlando voters refused to swallow what they considered
a poison pill -- Mobility 20/20 would have used some of the
new sales-tax revenue to add four express toll lanes to Interstate
4 next to the current eight free lanes. Many voters also expressed
disapproval of light rail, which they had rejected in 1997.
Nine transit referendums took place in North Texas last month.
Voters in three Denton County cities approved a 1/2-cent sales
tax to help fund light rail to Dallas. Five cities rejected
the proposal, however, and voters in Lake Worth decided to
pull out of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority.
Metro has one big advantage over other entities: It is not
asking voters to raise taxes. The authority already has a
full penny sales tax, the envy of most transit agencies, which
get by with a quarter- or half-cent. Metro says it can fund
the proposed $4.6 billion expansion using bonds, federal grants
and existing tax revenue.
Nearly every other transit referendum during the past year
has included a tax hike, a tough sell to voters in tough economic