The first public meeting on a new Regional Commuter Rail Connectivity Study will begin at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Houston-Galveston Area Council offices, 3555 Timmons.
Recommendations in the study, by H-GAC staff and consultants Kimley-Horn and Associates, differ from those in Metro's 2003 transit referendum in several ways.
- The referendum called for commuter rail out U.S. 90A (S. Main) and U.S. 290, but only the latter is in the study. To keep costs down, the study recommends sharing existing low-traffic tracks with freight railroads, but Union Pacific says those on U.S. 90A are too busy to be shared.
- The referendum map also showed potential routes along the Katy Freeway, Westpark, Hardy Toll Road, Texas 3 and Texas 249 (Tomball Parkway), but only the last two are in the study. The other three are shown as possible extensions of Metro's light rail service.
- The study recommends starting with a "baseline" system of five routes: U.S. 290, Texas 3, Texas 249, Texas 35 to Pearland, and -- as an alternative to U.S. 90A -- a route running south along Almeda (FM 521) and turning west through the middle of Fort Bend County.
- Although the study shows four lines continuing to downtown, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said they ought not duplicate Metro's light rail service. There also is resistance on City Council, and from neighborhoods such as the Heights, to more inner-city trains.
- Both the study and Metro's plans include an Intermodal Terminal on the north side of downtown, but the study recommends putting the main commuter rail terminal outside the West Loop, between Northwest Mall near U.S. 290 and Metro's Northwest Transit Center on the Katy Freeway. The Eureka rail yard just across the Loop to the east would be used for maintenance and to store trains between rush hours.
We can dance around issues like that all we want, but the bottom line is going to be this:
Kimley-Horn consultant Sam Lott estimated the cost of the five lines and the hub terminal at $2.9 billion.