October 18, 2007
Get ready for the U-Line decision

It's coming this morning.

Metro officials have said they were leaning toward routes on Richmond and Wheeler avenues that have drawn sharp opposition and enthusiastic support.

Today's planned vote, in a 9 a.m. meeting at 1900 Main, follows a request Tuesday by U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, asking the board to postpone the vote and consider other options.

Earlier this week, opponents released a 2006 study by a city of Houston consultant that warned against building rail over a 66-inch water line that runs beneath Richmond and Wheeler for several miles.

Culberson's letter suggested Metro take another look at an elevated rail route on the north side of the Southwest Freeway, crossing over to Westpark at Kirby.

Museum District residents have objected to that idea. An analysis by Metro consultants and staff shows the freeway option as the most costly and least likely to attract riders among the three options on the transit agency's short list.

Metro's response, from board chair David Wolff, said Metro already considered several Southwest Freeway options "at considerable time, effort and expense -- because of your specific request that we do so."

The Culberson letter and Metro's response are linked from the story. This is, of course, just another delaying tactic from someone who never wanted to see any of this built in the first place and has worked long and hard to stop it from happening.

Metro's Draft Environmental Impact Statement shows the best ridership and cost for a route that would run west from Main on Richmond, cross over the Southwest Freeway at Cummins and continue on Westpark to the Hillcroft Transit Center.

On the east side of Main, the route likely would continue east on Wheeler, north on Ennis and east on Elgin to the Eastwood Transit Center.

That ought to make Christof happy. Really, it ought to make everyone who wants the best possible route happy.

Metro must complete a final environmental statement and win funding approval from the Federal Transit Administration, which could come next summer.

Metro spokesman George Smalley said the board will choose both a route and a technology. Metro officials say they intend to proceed with light rail, but there are rumors the agency may opt for a cheaper mode, Bus Rapid Transit, if it doubts it can obtain the federal dollars for rail.

The 2003 referendum called for light rail on all five planned lines, but Metro said in 2005 it probably will substitute BRT, which uses trainlike buses on a fixed guideway, on the North, Southeast, East End and Uptown lines until ridership grows enough to justify the cost of rail.

On the other hand, I don't see how BRT will make anyone happy, no matter where it is. I don't know how much credence to give those rumors, but I sure do hope that's all they are.

More when the decision is announced. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: OK, the meeting started at 9, but the vote isn't till later. From a press release by RichmondRail.org asking its members to attend the Metro meeting:

The meeting starts at 9:00 am. There will be a staff report on the University Line options (presumably with a staff recommendation) and possibly some other business. Public Comments start at 9:30 or so. There will be dozens of speakers. After public comments, the board will recess and go into private session to deal with some legal and personnel issues, then break for lunch. The Board will reconvene at 2:00 pm to discuss the University Line alignments and vote to pick the route.

So we won't know for sure till after lunch. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Miya Shay is liveblogging the meeting. She says the Metro staff recommended the Cummins option (woo hoo!), and counted 21 commenters in favor of it against 15 opposed. The vote is still at least an hour away.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 18, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles