ISTEA Reauthorization
March 28, 1997

I am the chairman of ITS America, but in daily life I'm the General Manager of the Transit Authority in the Houston general area, and I would like to speak to you from the viewpoint of one of those who live each day where literally a lot of rubber meets the road.

The fact is with your very important assistance provided through ISTEA, we're an example of a place where we think there has been a significant amount of progress made in addressing what was once considered among the worst congested cities in the country. In fact, as a result of your help and with a good deal of local -- even with local growth but with a lot of local participation, traffic congestion in Houston has declined over the past decade, unlike that of most major cities.

It demonstrates the value of the flexibility of ISTEA and the advantages of the use of advanced technology, intelligent transportation type of activities in challenging the congestion problem. At home in that sunbelt city, metro is the region's single mass transit provider, but the State saw fit to broaden metro's powers to the point where we now act as an equal partner, in some cases as a leader, in developing and implementing programs and projects benefitting general traffic, as well as public transportation. We also design and build some of the highways and major streets in the Houston area and manage traffic on them.

We work very closely with the highway department, the city, the county and the private sector as equal partners to that end.

We've been focused on putting into place what we call the Regional Bus Plan. As the largest bus only system in America, we've played our hand in attempting to develop a mass transit system that can work very cost efficiently in a large geographic area with a low population density, albeit a large population. It hasn't been an easy challenge. Our program is a comprehensive plan focused on the use of advanced technology but with major benefits for all rubber tire vehicles as well as the transit vehicles. Each project provides immediate benefits as it's completed.

You and your colleagues have been instrumental in funding the Regional Bus Plan under a full funding grant agreement through the Federal Transit Administration from which we are receiving some $500 million of the program's $1 billion cost. Metro is providing the matching $500 million from local resources.

A keystone of the current Regional Bus Plan is our high occupancy vehicle lane network. This 104-mile network is already two-thirds completed and operational. Buses, vans and car pools are operated in those various separated HOV lanes in the center of the region's major freeways.

We receive rail level performance by frequent service and direct access from suburban park and ride lots through the HOV lanes to the major activity centers. During peak traffic periods, vehicles on those lanes move at the speed limit -- 55 to 70 -- alongside much lower traffic on the main lanes.

Another key feature of the Regional Bus Plan is the rebuilding of the region's traffic signals into a centrally monitored and controlled regional computerized traffic signal system. Metro, with the Federal Transit Administration funding, is rebuilding those signals and is impacting not only bus operations but also its working to the benefit of all rubber tire vehicles using those roads.

The Texas Department of Transportation and other local governments are at the same time rebuilding non-bus related signals. They're all tied together in a central control facility that we call Transtar. We're very proud of that state-of-the-art facility and the close multi-agency and private sector cooperation of which literally it is a concrete example.

Not only does Transtar afford the opportunity to monitor and direct traffic, but it permits instantaneous computerized real time adjustment to signals through corridors and cross corridors to respond to traffic needs.

Incident response is also coordinated from Transtar as our all emergency management functions, including hurricane and flood control evacuation and others. Metro even dispatches its buses and police traffic from that facility.

As a result of projects like these, not only have travel times decreased steadily but mass transit use has increased. During peak periods, HOV lanes carry the equivalent of two and a half to three times the traffic, the passenger traffic, on the adjacent main lanes. Since they are reversible, they negate the need to build six more lanes on those freeways.

The Regional Bus Plan relies on ITS concepts and technology to achieve this high level performance. A small example is we're developing a Smart Bus, which, among many other things, provides real time location and schedule information to waiting passengers at transit centers ahead. Better informed patrons are more frequent riders.

In addition, we've been a participant with Los Angeles MTA and the development of the next generation bus, lighter and more fuel efficient and operated less expensively and with less demands on the freeway system. We are also a leader in the application of alternative fuel technology, having chosen liquified natural gas as our choice.

We would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today, ask for your continued support in the future, and would suggest that with your help ISTEA and ITS can produce many more success stories in the days to come.