Battle erupts over controversial Uptown bus lane development

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It's a running joke among retailers and residents in Uptown.

Ask them what Metro buses transport in this neighborhood and the answer is  "mostly chilled air".

"Six of seven bus routes have been canceled for lack of ridership. If you look at any buses here I challenge you to find anybody that's riding them," said Gene O'Donnell, a merchant opposed to new bus lanes.

And yet unless someone with major stroke intercedes, Post Oak near the Galleria is about to be torn apart and reassembled to make space for two dedicated bus lanes. It's a nine figure, taxpayer funded project the Uptown Houston Management District believes will deliver much more reliable and efficient service for commuters.

"The idea of comparing bus service as it stands today to what is being proposed is like comparing a dirt road to a freeway," said John Breeding, President of Uptown Houston.

But the price of building the bus lanes is steep.

First, there's months and even years of disruptive construction which merchants say will damage their businesses.

"We are going to remove traffic lanes and add bus lanes, remove turn lanes and add bus lanes. It's just crazy already," said project opponent Dave Volz, referencing the proposed elimination of dedicated right turn lanes off Post Oak onto both San Felipe and Westheimer.

Then there's the need for additional land which some serving on the Uptown board have been very eager to sell.

"Most of the right of way transactions that have gone through involve board members who have a financial interest in the transaction," said Wayne Dolcefino, spokesman for project opponents.

Uptown's Breeding denies any conflict of interest or profiteering.

"We can't pay too much. We have to pay fair compensation," said Breeding.

But some in Uptown don't want to sell and resent the looming prospect that their land will be taken for a bus project they see as a boondoggle in a city with many far more pressing needs.

"If you are in Meyerland that money could fix your flooding right there. If you are living in Greenspoint that money could fix your flooding right there," said Jim Scarborough, an opponent of the bus project.

Dolcefino claims the board is under criminal investigation by the Harris County District Attorney's Office for transparency violations.

Opponents called for Mayor Sylvester Turner to kill the project or at least delay work until independent surveys can determine how many folks who frequent Uptown are willing to park their cars and ride a bus instead.

Uptown project opponents say the cost of the project, partially funded by the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, will likely reach $300 million. Breeding says that claim is wrong. He says the project will cost less than $130 million.