Recently, Metro ran into a roadblock - more of a tracks-block, actually - with its East End light rail line, which was denied permission to cross a freight rail track at grade on Harrisburg. That meant that the East End line would have to terminate short of the Magnolia Transit Center, which everyone agreed was a sub-optimal solution. Fortunately, the optimal solution of grade separation, which was proposed but didn't have a funding mechanism, is now looking like a realistic possibility in the near term.
After a meeting on Friday brokered by Houston City Councilman James Rodriguez, the plan to extend the route is back. An expensive grade separation, with light rail going either over or under the freight rails, is now the likely end result.
"This whole Metro Solutions works if you're able to connect to a major transit center, so going to the Magnolia Transit Center is key for the mobility in the area. We were able to get together and stress that the city does have some funds to commit to this. We'd like Metro to commit some funding and also the Freight Rail District. The Freight Rail District agreed to take the lead in organizing all the governmental agencies."
Mark Ellis is chairman of the Gulf Coast Freight Rail District and says a grade separation could cost upwards of $20 million.
"It's my understanding that Metro is committed to 25-percent of the cost of the grade separation at Harrisburg. The Mayor has committed to 50-percent. I suspect that UP will step-up and do their 5-percent. We still have a little bit of a gap, but we're trying to work with just about everybody in the region, Harris County, the Port, the railroads, the city and Metro to see if we can't find the funding."
Metro's Sandra Aponte Salazar says it's too early for Metro to talk about specific costs, but does say the progress is encouraging.
"Metro is committed to taking this light rail line to the Magnolia Transit Center and we've said it's not a question of if, but when. It's good to see this cooperation, absolutely."