September 04, 2002
Good news, bad news

The good news: The Metropolitan Transit Authority will have room for a rail line as part of the planned Katy Freeway (I-10) expansion.

The bad news: Any such rail line will depend on federal dollars, and that means the blessing of Tom DeLay. Good frickin' luck.

It also depends on voter approval. I'm not worried about that yet. If the Right People are convinced that this plan is a Good Thing, then I believe voter approval will follow. It's way too early to say how that may shape up. As was the case with the Rockets' new stadium, it will depend in large part on the specifics of the plan, and we're a long way away from that.

One factor in how all this plays out is Rep. John Culberson (R, Fort Bend). Culberson won Bill Archer's old district in part on a pledge to Do Something about the Katy Freeway. He's one of the architects and advocates of the planned 22-lane expansion that I've derided in this space. His plan is popular in Katy and the far western reaches of Houston, where people with long commutes live, but is a lot less popular than he probably thought it was in places like Spring Valley, a wealthy and heavily Republican independent township just north of I-10.

Culberson recently attended a meeting of the Spring Valley City Council to talk about the freeway expansion plan. Before attending, he did a talk radio show in which he invited supporters to come out and give those "environmental whackos" what for. He got a lot more resistance than he expected. I have the pre- and post-meeting scoop here and here, taken from two emails I got from Polly Ledvina of the Katy Corridor Coalition.

Another person whose fate will be entwined with this is Orlando Sanchez. Sanchez staked out an anti-rail position in last year's mayoral election, and he's running again in 2003. If the pro-rail forces score some early victories and line up some key Republican supporters, Sanchez may have to back off his original stance or face the possibility that a Joe Roach might cut into his base. On the other hand, if the pro-rail forces go down in flames early on, Sanchez could ride that to an easy victory next year. We'll see.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 04, 2002 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Michael and I had the same reaction when looking at that article this morning. Specifically, Tom Delay will bless a rail plan on a cold day in a hot place neither of us believes in.

Not that I believe he'd bless it if there was a straight-up vote on it that was 90% in favor of rail. The federal funds holdup is about Tom Delay and power, not about what the city wants and/or needs, or about fiscal responsibility. Anyone who thinks it's anything else: I know this lovely bridge over the Ship Channel that's for sale.

Posted by: Ginger on September 4, 2002 10:38 AM

I've also drafted a comment on Metro's victory on getting room for a rail line as a part of the Katy Freeway expansion, which is, of course, in the negative.

Essentially, it boils down to this: Metro comissioned a report on a downtown-to-Katy rail line in 1998, and it showed that ridership prospects were dismal because most people using the Katy freeway are not going downtown. As such, Metro temporarily dropped its plans for a Katy line and focused on Main Street.

With this being known, I'm just wondering - why anyone would support a light rail line along the Katy Freeway?

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on September 4, 2002 1:32 PM

Well, now that there's another line that a Katy line could connect to that will take people places other than downtown (such as Reliant Stadium), that 1998 study is at least somewhat out of date.

I work by the Dome. The Main Street line will run literally right in front of my building. I'm also a half-mile from I-10. Were there a Katy line which connected to the Main line, I could take the train to work. I would, too.

I'd use a Katy line to connect to the Main line to get to Rice for sports events. There's just no convenient driving route from I-10 to Rice, and $DEITY knows parking sucks at Rice.

FWIW, I'd be happy to take a Katy line to the Edwards theater (the closest movie theater to me) at I-10 and Silber. I always have to park way the heck away from the theater in that lot anyway, so walking from a train stop would be no big deal.

The more viable non-car options people have, the more likely they are to use them.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on September 4, 2002 4:08 PM

From what I gather, the 1998 study mainly focused on 1-10 commuters going to the Galleria and Greenway plaza, which have roughly as many workers as the central business district. Besides, making connections on light rail trains won't make for a fast commute, especially considering light rail averages about 17 miles per hour nationwide (14 in Dallas).

As for Rice, we actually have plenty of parking, it's just mostly in the stadium, which I've never seen above three-fourths capacity outside of sporting event. And for those, you'd have to walk quite a distance to Reckling Field or Rice Stadium from Fannin to get to most games -- so light rail won't be much of an option.

Light rail hasn't gained significant increases in public transit ridership in most cities, especially those which are less densely populated. And Houston isn't becoming much more dense either -- the Metroplex ranks 10th behind DFW in terms of population. I simply think most of the attachment to rail isn't quite rational, becuase I haven't seen any statistics that make it appear desireable.

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on September 4, 2002 7:45 PM