February 16, 2006
METRO announces schedule for Universities rail line

METRO has announced a timetable for the Universities light rail line, which is the official name for the east-west line from UH/TSU to the Galleria area.

METRO board selects light rail technology Feb, 2006
Selection of technical team March, 2006
Technical work begins April, 2006
  • evaluation of alternative alignments

  • development of environmental impact statement

  • preparation of New Starts project documentation

  • preliminary engineering

Preliminary findings Oct, 2006
Final environmental report July, 2007
Record of Decision (FTA approval) Oct, 2007
Letter of No Prejudice
(for reimbursement of federal funds) Jan, 2008
Start construction Aug, 2008
Start service May, 2012

They also say the following regarding the location of the line, presumably in response to recent political pressure to favor one place over another:

The bottom line is that because there is no hard data on the pros and cons of either Richmond or Westpark, both streets should be included in the study process. No party, no matter how vocal, should be allowed to force an outcome at this early stage in the process that trumps the legitimate interests of other segments of our community.

I certainly agree with that. They'll get to see how vocal some of those parties are later today.

Residents and businesspeople from neighborhoods along routes from Main Street to the Galleria say they will tell the Metropolitan Transit Authority board today how they feel about a light rail on Richmond.

They speak with many voices — some for, some against and some wanting Metro to consider all options.

That's today from 1 to 3 PM, at th METRO Administration Building, 2nd floor board room, 1900 Main St, between Pierce & St. Joseph Pkwy, Houston, 77002. Attend if you want your voice to be heard.

Though the 2003 ballot did name Westpark as a route, [Metro president and CEO Frank] Wilson noted that it also said each line was subject to available funding and the required legal process, which includes route studies and community input. "We are doing precisely what the referendum says," he said.

Wilson has described Westpark, where Metro already owns right of way, as a "desert" that might not generate enough ridership for the line to qualify for federal funding.


Maps on Metro's Web site show the Westheimer alternative, which would lay rail through the posh Highland Village and Galleria shopping areas, branching off from Richmond via Weslayan or alongside the Union Pacific tracks, and running north to Westheimer.

But Wilson said Highland Village interests oppose the idea, and although Metro has not ruled it out, he said, the agency is "carrying forward" only the Richmond and Westpark alternatives.

Westpark and Richmond aren't so far apart that putting this line on Westpark would mean no one would use it to get to places on Richmond. I feel quite certain that a lot of the new housing being built on streets like Caroline in Neartown, which is at least as far from Main as Richmond is from Westpark, is being bought by people who wanted to live within walking distance of a rail stop. To that extent, I can sympathize with the argument for putting the train on Westpark.

But it's not just about getting to places on Richmond, it's also about getting to places on the equally heavily trafficked Westheimer, and to a lesser extent Alabama. Westheimer is a much longer walk from Westpark, enough of one that I think it would be disincentive to ride a Westpark rail line to get to a destination on Westheimer. And that's before you consider that to get to either Richmond or Westheimer from Westpark, you have to cross US59, which is pedestrian-unfriendly at best. And I just can't see what you'd do with the line east of Kirby, where Westpark terminates. Pro-Westpark advocates talk about running the line along US59 for that stretch, but with US 59 below grade most of the way from Kirby to Main, I don't see where you'd put it. I really can't picture this being a viable alternative to Richmond, which is where the people and the destinations already are.

Building it on Richmond is to my mind the most sensible thing to do, but it will be disruptive, and it will put businesses there under strain. I hope METRO has learned from its experiences with the Main Street line, and I hope they will live up to their promises to try and address the concerns the residents on Richmond have. But this is where it needs to go, and everyone involved needs to do what they can to make the best of it.

UPDATE: Tory spoke in favor of letting the process make the decision, not politics.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 16, 2006 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

This is another test of TypeKey authentication. Looks like the popup window for comments lets me fill in my full name. I may have to dink with my templates a bit. But at least the damn thing works.

Posted by: kuff on February 16, 2006 11:09 AM

"Westpark and Richmond aren't so far apart that putting this line on Westpark would mean no one would use it to get to places on Richmond."

Ever walk in it in the Summer, Chuck? Or when the bums are massed up under the underpasses? I have. It sucks. Come by some day. We'll walk it. You'll see. Oh, and bring a sidearm.

Running it along Richmond gives you the possibility of walking to Alabama. Westheimer is out of the question though, but not as far as the current Main Street line is from Toyota or Minutemaid by METRO logic.

The 9 doesn't bother running on Sundays. There's a reason why. And when I need to use the 25 on Sundays or after the 9 has quit at 8PM (the later runs are unreliable) to get Downtown, I hope they're not during the summer.


Posted by: Laurence Simon on February 16, 2006 11:29 AM

I think we're in agreement here, Lair. I did say that crossing 59 was "pedestrian-unfriendly" and would be a disincentive to ride.

Yes, it's hot in summer. But it's not always summer. People who would ride the train for reasons other than going to work can factor that into their decision as to what mode of transit to take if they have to get someplace on Westheimer.

Posted by: kuff on February 16, 2006 12:06 PM

I favor it along Richmond as well, although I understand people's reluctance. Westpark, however, is not convenient to Richmond until you get past Chimney Rock. Until then, the two are separated by I-59 and there are only a relatively few places one can cross (major streets, primarily). The problem with this line in general is that it will be on the other side of the freeway from someone who would like to use it, regardless of where they put it. But I don't see how they can get around that, and otherwise it makes a lot of sense to me.

Posted by: Robert B on February 16, 2006 8:00 PM