July 01, 2007
No rail along I-10?

Somehow, this doesn't surprise me.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority's longstanding desire to someday squeeze a rail line onto the widened Katy Freeway may not be realized as soon as agency officials had hoped.

A new draft agreement among Metro, Harris County and the Texas Department of Transportation for operation of the freeway's future toll lanes does not mention rail, an absence that has Metro officials concerned.

A March letter to TxDOT from Metro's capital projects director, Vincent Obregon, noted the omission: "We believe this is a fundamental issue that should be coordinated prior to action by our board."

TxDOT's Transportation Planning Director Gabriel Johnson responded that, "If, and when, light rail transit is provided by Metro within the corridor, the Operations Agreement will be amended accordingly."

The question is, where could Metro put its rails once the toll lanes are in place? There is no room in the freeway's current design without removing some traffic lanes, TxDOT spokeswoman Janelle Gbur and Metro board chairman David Wolff agreed.

Running rail down the middle of the freeway would displace two or more of the four toll lanes, which are to replace Metro's current High Occupancy Vehicle lanes and serve the same role for transit and carpools while generating revenue from other vehicles.

Nonetheless, Metro vice president Bryan Pennington told the agency board Friday it was "very realistic" to believe Metro could be operating rail in the Katy Freeway corridor within five to seven years.

I like the optimism, but I don't know how you can think that. I can't see HCTRA giving up its managed toll lanes. If there was ever a way to make this work, it was at the beginning, before things started getting torn up. I have a hard time seeing any retrofitting happening.

There are other issues as well, which H-GAC's Alan Clark touches on:

Clark said the toll lanes were not Metro's only option for rail. Besides, he said, those lanes would pose problems getting passengers to and from the trains in the middle of a busy freeway.

There are road shoulders and transition areas as well as main lanes and frontage road lanes that could be used instead, Clark said.

As with the Universities line and US59, putting rail lines in the middle of a freeway doesn't really make sense. Moving them out towards the frontage roads makes more sense, but they still don't seem like places that train passengers would want to walk to or from. It's much more sensible to look for a nearby parallel road with dense development and pedestrian destinations. Like, say, Washington Avenue. That doesn't get you out west of Loop 610, but maybe keeping this all inside the Loop is a better idea anyway. I'd want to consider this before I tried to squeeze an unwanted rail path into the middle of the Katy Freeway at this point. Back when that was in the planning stage, it was different. Now it's time to rethink that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 01, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

As with the Universities line and US59, putting rail lines in the middle of a freeway doesn't really make sense.


Chicago's Red and Blue lines seem to work pretty well, and they run for some distance in the middle of busy freeways.

Then again, Chicagoans walk, something Houstonians don't seem to want to do, and Chicagoans don't think of their rail lines as taxi cabs that must go right to the door of "where the people are" (no light rail line gobbling up lanes on Lake Shore Drive, for example!). They also have a very good bus system that complements their rail nicely, and Chicagoans aren't scared to ride the bus.

Folks here might consider that working transit system more carefully, instead of just pronouncing that transit development they don't like "doesn't really make sense." The Chicago examples run counter to that particular claim as it is being made here.

Posted by: Kevin Whited on July 1, 2007 11:48 AM