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Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership
BayTran State of the Counties Luncheon
by Lynda Guidry w/photos courtesy of Binkley & Barfield-Sarah Hoban
Friday, May 19, 2017

The Bay Area Houston Transportation Partnership hosted its annual State of the Counties luncheon on Wednesday at the Houston Marriott South.

BayTran President Theresa Rodriguez thanked the program sponsors. BayTran Chair David Hamilton, PE of Binkley & Barfield, recognized elected officials and presided over the introductions of the meeting.

Each year, the county judges of Harris, Brazoria and Galveston counties offer an update on the state of their local governments and highlight milestones, challenges and opportunities their counties are experiencing.

Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta spoke first, after being introduced by Brazoria County Commissioner Dude Payne.

Sebesta noted the growth in the county, particularly in the north, in cities such as Pearland.

“In the year I was born, they came out with the 1960 census, and Pearland had 1,497 people in the 1960 census,” Sebesta said. “Now they're well over 100,000.” Listen (12:29)

He stated that the region is projected to have more than 9.7 million in population by 2040.

“I emphasize region, because we have to work together regionally,” Sebesta said, stressing the need to work together as a region to resolve transportation issues.

Sebesta discussed the economic successes in Brazoria County, pointing out that between 2013-2017, approximately $27.2 billion in petrochemical investments have been made in the county.

For transportation, Sebesta talked about State Highway 288's toll road project. He said the county received a bid on three projects, including the toll road, beautification and improvements to FM 518 at 288. He said that the projects were estimated for a total of $127 million, and the bid arrived at $97 million. Construction of the project will begin next month, Sebesta said.

“It will be a great project for our citizens who are traveling into Houston and out of Houston each and every day,” Sebesta said.

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry spoke next, after being introduced by Commissioner Ken Clark.

Henry also noted that population and economic growth in Galveston County. He stated that the county has eliminated 40 percent of its debt, and achieved a AAA bond rating. Henry said that bond rating was important, as the county is planning to hold a referendum on a bond issue in November.

“We have explosive growth, as the way we describe it, and it is painful to try to keep up with that growth,” Henry said, noting that the county has received strong interest from cities in a bond issue.

He also discussed economic improvements in the county, including RedGuard, which chose Hitchcock for its new facility. Listen (8:00)

“What it really did was it got a bunch of site selectors to say 'where's Hitchcock?'” Henry said. “We're happy about that, because we like to answer that it's a couple of thousand of acres of reasonably priced land that has access to rail, water and highway.”

Henry also hinted at a possible large new industry entering the county, but said he could not fully discuss the matter. He also discussed the expansion of medical facilities, including the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett was introduced by Commissioner R. Jack Cagle.

“Harris County's still big,” Emmett said. “We're still bigger than 25 states in population. We're still growing rapidly.”

Emmett noted the number companies, and people, locating outside of Houston, in the unincorporated areas of the county.

“By 2020 more people will live in the unincorporated Harris County than live inside the city limits of Houston,” Emmett said. “And since we don't have ordinance making power, that presents some real challenges to us.” Listen (16:01)

He then talked about the Texas Legislative session, which he stated is currently in its “silly season” and that local officials have to remain aware proposed legislation, such as property tax reform, and legislation that proposes ending system financing of toll roads. He called on BayTran to become more involved in matters in Austin.

“We need you to get more engaged on things like that, because there's anti-toll road feeling going through Austin right now,” Emmett said.

Road projects in Harris County include the ship channel bridge on Beltway 8.

“That's a huge project, and by the time we build it, it will be probably too small,” Emmett said. “That's just the way that we're going in this area.”

He noted the importance of the Interstate 69 bypass, a project proposed for federal funding. He also said the area needed to find a way to “energize” the Gulf Coast Rail District.

“Sooner or later we're going to have to get serious about rail projects,” Emmett said. “We cannot just continue to build highways in this region. Those rail projects are both freight and passengers.”

He also said he favored expanding Houston METRO.

“I think it's really time to look at expanding METRO, finding a way for there to be more transit services in areas that are not traditionally served by METRO right now,” he said.

Emmett ended his comments again calling for help in public policy, and with planning, from BayTran.

“My plea to you today, help on the public policy side, when it comes to property taxes and toll roads and things like that, but then also help us come up and develop the big ideas, the visionary ideas,” Emmett said. “We can't just keep playing defense and doing it piecemeal.”

The annual event was also the opportunity for Bay Area Transportation Partnership to honor an individual who has made significant contributions of time and expertise to advancing the organization’s mission to enhance the region’s mobility. James D. (Jim) Dannenbaum, PE was presented the Charles A. Jacobson Award in recognition of his contributions.

George A. DeMontrond, III, chair of the Greater Houston Partnership's Transportation Advisory Committee, introduced Dannenbaum, who delivered remarks on receiving the award.

With his wife, Shirley, by his side, he expressed appreciation for the special recognition from his peers.

“I’d like to thank David and the board of directors for giving me this award. I feel completely unworthy to follow in the shadow of the very distinguished people that have received this award since 2002. Our (Dannenbaum Engineering Corporation) contributions are minor compared to those of the giants in the industry. Nevertheless, I’m grateful for it and what we may have accomplished.” He then thanked key colleagues and staff  “who help make all these things possible and make it possible for me to donate some volunteer time.”  
Listen (3:11)

To listen to the the entire meeting, Click Here.

Learn more about the mission of Bay Area Houston Transportation Partnership Here

Dannenbaum Engineering BayTran
Remembering Jim Guidry

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