October 18, 2007
Metro picks Cummins-Elgin option

Hot dog! Miya is the first to report it:

2:35 Adopted! Going West: Richmond, Cummins, Westpark to Hillcroft Transit Center. Going East: Wheeler, along Ennis, North to Scott, along Elgin, and ending at the Eastwood Transit Center.

Now (I hope!) the real work can begin. Much more to come later.

UPDATE: Here's the updated Chron story, which (as noted by Mase in the comments) contradicts Miya's report slightly:

The Metropolitan Transit Authority board voted today on a Richmond-Wheeler route for its controversial University light rail line. But that was almost an anticlimax: It also voted to put light rail -- not Bus Rapid Transit -- on all five planned lines.

"We now feel we can pass federal muster (to obtain 50 percent funding) by going to light rail on all five lines at once," board chairman David Wolff said. "We can't help but believe that people will be thrilled by it."

In 2005, residents and elected officials along the planned North, East End, Southeast and Uptown lines were dismayed to learn that Metro analysis showed cost and ridership on them would be too low to justify federal funding for rail.

The board pledged to build "Bus Rapid Transit convertible" -- train-like buses running in a guideway similar to that of rail, with rails in the ground -- and add the rail cars and power system when ridership grew enough to warrant the cost.

Like the Main Street line, the University line always had been intended to use light rail.

Now, Wolff said, "we have gone through the preliminary scoring and the numbers look really good."

Metro president and CEO Frank Wilson said the change could add about $600 million to the five lines' cost, which was the estimated cost of converting from BRT.

But the total would remain at the $2 billion previously cited, which was based on the rail assumption, he said. Wilson said the construction timeline, to have all five carrying passengers by late 2012, should not change.

The expansion would increase the number of rail cars from 18 now to about 100, and it will take about three years to have them delivered, Wilson said.

The route approved for the University line, as expected, runs west from Main on Richmond Avenue, crosses south over the Southwest Freeway at Cummins and continues west on Westpark to the Hillcroft Transit Center.

The eastern leg would go east on Wheeler and turn north on Ennis, but then -- instead of continuing on Elgin to the Eastside Transit Center -- would turn east on Alabama and end at Scott and the University of Houston. From there, it would piggyback north on the Southeast line tracks along Scott, and turn east on Elgin, cross the Gulf Freeway and into the Eastwood Transit Center.

Metro officials said they would have liked to continue to Eastwood Transit Center, as several speakers today urged them to do. Wolff said Metro hopes to eventually complete that link, which would pick up Park & Ride bus riders from the Clear Lake area and Pearland, and East End residents.

"We don't think we quite have the money now," Wolff said. The added length, including a Gulf Freeway underpass, would have raised the cost by $60 million and generated about 2,600 more daily riders, he said.

Wilson said bus routes would be designed to carry passengers between the transit center and the University Line, as part of a systemwide revamping of bus routes to coordinate with rail.

I'm sorry they won't be continuing the line all the way to the Eastwood Transit Center, but at least that option hasn't been foreclosed. And the news that it's all going to be light rail is excellent, and sure to be celebrated in the areas that will be getting those lines. Here's a statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman:

Although I would have liked METRO to run more of the University Corridor alignment east of Main Street along Elgin to the Eastwood Transit Center, I want to express my support for this University Corridor alignment that has a part of its segment on Elgin because it is a viable compromise that serves my constituents both west and east of Main Street including the faculty, staff and students of the city's universities as well as those workers traveling to our major employment centers. I am extremely pleased with the fact that the Southeast Line from downtown along Scott Street to Palm Center will be light rail from the beginning instead of the "rail on rubber wheels" alternative. I will continue to work on behalf of my constituents to ensure that the University Corridor alignment is the least disruptive to the residents in my district throughout this rail initiative.

As we know, folks in places like Rep. Coleman's district voted heavily in favor of the 2003 referendum, and they were pissed when Metro announced the switch to BRT later on. I'm very glad they're now getting what they voted for and really wanted. Today has been a good day. Onward and forward.

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

I thought going east what was adopted was along Alabama, not Elgin, stopping at UofH. That is what the Chronicle is reporting:


Posted by: Mase on October 18, 2007 3:33 PM

What's the over/under on the number of hours until Rep. Culberson has his news conference denouncing the pick and making a not so veiled threat to hold up funding? Three hours?

Posted by: Patrick on October 18, 2007 4:40 PM

What great news! Now for Rep. Culberson to do what he promised and help get us our federal money, instead of continuing to try to throw monkey wrenches in the process.

And thank goodness no BRT!!!! What a raw deal that was!

Posted by: Michael on October 18, 2007 5:21 PM

more in my blog:

Posted by: Christof Spieler on October 19, 2007 6:34 AM