August 12, 2007
The right way to go

I swear, I didn't write this Chron editorial about the Universities DEIS, which I managed to not see until last night, but judging from all the points they chose to make, I apparently could have.

Having the rail run from Main along Richmond and then across to Westpark by way of Cummins or Greenway Plaza offers the most ridership with the least cost and disruption of neighborhoods. Both of these routes would bypass Afton Oaks, a stronghold of anti-rail sentiment, connect with the Galleria and draw Houstonians beyond the West Loop into the system.

The study also indicates that on the portion of the route east of Main, a route down Wheeler to Texas Southern University, then jogging north to Elgin and on to the University of Houston, would be preferable. Although some neighborhood groups have favored running the line down Elgin or West Alabama, Wheeler would be the cheapest and most rider-friendly route.

The study undercuts many of the arguments made against rail on Richmond. It found the competing route, along the Southwest Freeway to Westpark and championed by Culberson, would displace more residents and businesses, cost more to build and carry fewer riders.

Building on Richmond would be less disruptive of traffic than constructing support pillars along the freeway and removing a lane from frontage roads. Worse, that would require the removal of the outside shoulder of the southbound freeway. Texas Department of Transportation officials state this would violate freeway safety standards.

Perhaps the most spurious argument against rail on Richmond is that the public referendum approving expanded rail called for it to run in the Westpark Corridor. A line running from Richmond onto Westpark matches the ballot description as closely as one running along the Southwest Freeway to Westpark.

What is striking about all the Metro options is how few properties would be affected, unlike the Katy Freeway expansion and the proposed widening of Highway 290, projects that many rail opponents embraced. For some politicians, it would appear that when it comes to road and rail, there are different standards for what is acceptable inconvenience for the public.

You'd figure that TxDOT's opposition to the 59 option would be the death of it, all things considered. We'll know soon enough. In the meantime, thanks for seeing it my way, fellas.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 12, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

actually, as reported (w/quotes) by the Southwest News, but not the Chron, TxDOT has a problem with each of the western U Line options b/c each crosses over the SWFwy at some point and will require support pilings in the HOV, thereby narrowing the HOV at that point and creating what TxDOT calls a "bottleneck." The TxDOT person quoted says the METRO DEIS assumes a 10.5 ft HOV lane so that the rail overpass supports won't require taking HOV space, but that # is much narrower than what actually exists.

not surprising from an agency whose U Line planners stood on Westpark for the 1st time only 6 months ago and declared that dropping an elevated train under the existing high power lines and making a turn to at-grade in the space of a couple hundred or so feet would really be no problem.

Posted by: IHB2 on August 12, 2007 1:31 PM

Regarding TxDOT: The DEIS notes that any of the options would require support columns in the freeway right of way. However, a single column is much easier to deal with than a whole line of them. A brief bottleneck does not prevent cars from pulling to the shoulder, and it does not slow down traffic like a continuous lane does. The HOV lane already bottlenecks at Edloe, at the slip ramps near Spur 527, and at the 610 interchange.

TxDOT's correspondence in the DEIS does not rule out the Cummins or Greenway options; it recommends they be "further developed" to assess impact. The same letter calls the 59 option "unacceptable." Clearly, TxDOT makes a distinction. Of course they'll express concern about any option that uses their right-of-way; they want to make sure they have input on the final design.

Incidentally, the DEIS shows quite clearly how the Cummins and Greenway options would come in under the power lines and turn. Both would fit in between the power pylons, and the resulting turn would be no tighter than what's being looked at elsewhere on the line.

Posted by: Christof Spieler on August 12, 2007 3:22 PM