A few weeks back, Metro ran into a roadblock with its East End light rail lines, in that it was denied permission by Union Pacific to cross freight rail tracks at grade on Harrisburg, thus cutting it off from its intended destination at the Magnolia Transit Center. Shortly thereafter, an agreement was reached in principle to do a grade separation for both road and rail traffic at that crossing, with the costs shared by Metro, UP, and the city. Here's an update on that situation.
The East End light rail line will cross over or under Union Pacific railroad tracks and extend to the Magnolia Transit Center, 6948 Harrisburg Blvd.
That decision put the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, the Gulf Coast Freight Rail District, Union Pacific and City Councilman James Rodriguez's office on the same track.
The elevated or underground grade separation will be a boon to the East End community -- and a relief to anyone who has ever sat and waited for the railroad cars to pass, said Sandra Salazar, Metro spokeswoman.
"This will be a very welcome enhancement to that neighborhood -- crossing without having to wait for the train to clear," she said.
The objections raised by Union Pacific in letters to Metro in 2006-07 are being resolved and Metro has been working with the Federal Railroad Administration to appeal Union Pacific's decision.
After the Gulf Coast Freight Rail District was created last year, it became a party to the negotiations between Metro and the city of Houston to determine how the light rail line would cross the Union Pacific tracks and roadways on Harrisburg Boulevard.
Prompted by calls from community leaders concerned that Metro might simply shorten its light rail line, ending about six blocks before the Magnolia center, Rodriguez brought the matter before the local community and the city.
The city has since committed to cover one-half of the costs of the grade separations, with Metro and Union Pacific agreeing to pay the remainder of the costs at that crossing, Salazar said.
"The different parties are now coalescing," Salazar said. "The costs haven't been figured out yet, but at some point it will be determined what the project is going to be and assigning costs to the (partners)."
A "ballpark figure," she said, would be about $20 million, though it could change drastically once the scope of the project -- such as whether the crossing will be an overpass or an underpass -- is determined.
After hearing complaints and concerns from constituents and noting the lack of a Metro map showing the Magnolia Transit Center as the terminus for the East End line, Rodriguez issued a statement April 7 about the importance of "bringing rail to the table" among all parties involved.
The statement helped to kick off the series of community and city meetings that resulted in the agreement where the city assumes 50 percent of the grade separation costs and Metro picks up 25-30 percent.
"We're about 15 percent [short] of getting this thing funded," Rodriguez said.
Mayor Bill White has "gone above and beyond," the freight rail district has been a good partner and the primary parties in the agreement have made promises to the East End community regarding the grade-level separation project that must now be kept, Rodriguez said.