By Mary Alys Cherry
Texas transportation challenges were at the forefront at this year’s Bay Area Houston Transportation Partnership State of the Counties Address, featuring the county judges of Harris, Galveston and Brazoria counties.
With Judges Ed Emmett of Harris County, Mark Henry of Galveston County and Joe King of Brazoria as the speakers, the 15th annual luncheon drew a host of public officials.
State Sen. Larry Taylor and Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan were among them, as were Galveston County Commissioners Ken Clark, Ryan Dennard and Kevin O’Brien, Brazoria County Commissioners Matt Sebasta, Stacy Adams and Dude Payne, Mayors Tom Reid of Pearland, Mark Denman of Nassau Bay, Tim Paulissen of League City, Louis Rigby of La Porte, Floyd Myers of Webster, Bob Fry of West University Place and Jon Keeney of Taylor Lake Village, former Congressman Nick Lampson, legislative candidates Sheryl Berg, Dennis Paul and John Gay and dozens of mayors pro-tem, city managers and council members.
Those attending also had an opportunity to meet new Port of Houston Executive Director Roger Guenther and new Pearland City Manager Clay Pearson.
In addition to calling for upgrades for transportation, each of the judges updated the crowd on other pending projects.
Judge Henry, introduced by Commissioner Ken Clark, opened his remarks by pointing out several areas needing attention, such as Highway 146, the Gulf Freeway and more access to Pelican Island. Noting one of the state’s key problems, he said “. . . fewer dollars are going into TxDOT as a result of better mileage from cars, and it’s not sustainable,” going on to discuss a new vehicular and rail bridge to Pelican Island.
“We’re going to have to ask the people in Austin to make some tough decisions; so I want to ask you to let folks like Senator Taylor know we support the effort. TxDOT barely has the money to maintain what they have,” he added, before providing an update of how Galveston had successfully contained the recent oil spill.
Judge King, who is retiring this year and was the county sheriff for 24 years before being elected county judge, took the crowd on a journey through the years, noting how much things have changed since he first started in law enforcement. “You can’t help but think that the future for the region – Brazoria, Harris and Galveston counties – will continue to skyrocket,” he said before listing several transportation projects in the works in the northern end of his county.
“Highway 288 is now four lanes and needs more and we also need a rail line to the port to take some of the trucks off 288,” he added before saying goodbye – “It’s time for me to go” — and wishing Brazoria County and the Bay Area well. He was introduced by Commissioner Matt Sebasta.
Judge Emmett, introduced by Port Executive Director Roger Guenther, opened his remarks with a salute to Judge King as “an ideal public servant” and one a person could count on in time of crisis. Then, turning to transportation, he said, “This group, BayTran, really needs to become even more of a driving force for solutions,” going to suggest that members work with Senator Taylor and other local legislators to push for help from Austin.
“Because it is easy for some groups to say, ‘Oh, no, you don’t need to do anything, no need to spend any money, and, by all means, don’t raise taxes or fees; that’s going to kill us.’” He cited I-69 as one project we need to focus on, as well as Highways 288 and 36.
Another highlight of the luncheon was the presentation by BayTran Vice Chairman Bob Robinson of the Charles A. Jacobson Transportation Award to Port Commissioner John Kennedy, who served as city manager of Nassau Bay for 10 years and on the BayTran board.
BayTran President Barbara Koslov welcomed the crowd of 250 to Brady’s Landing and introduced the many public officials. Others on the program were Pearland Mayor Tom Reid, the Rev. Tony McCollum of Seabrook Methodist Church and Harris County Criminal Court Judge Jay Karahan.
BayTran Chairman Karen Coglianese used the occasion to announce that her term is ending and that Assistant Pearland City Manager Jon Branson will become the new chairman.
Key community officials in the audience included Metro President Tom Lambert, Clear Lake Chamber President Cindy Harreld, Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell, Bay Area Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau President Pam Summers, Port of Freeport Chairman John Hoss, Economic Alliance Business Development Director Marie McDermott and Houston-Galveston Area Council Director Alan Clark.