Houston’s biggest bus rapid transit line, the planned University Corridor, is still on the drawing board, but already is drawing in federal funds.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, in a Thursday announcement, said the Metropolitan Transit Authority project will receive $150 million in the upcoming budget of the Federal Transit Administration, as part of the New Starts grant program for major transit projects. The approval, subject to Congress passing the overall budget, marks the first federal funds dedicated to the line, out of a potential $939.3 million of the $1.57 billion cost that could come from Washington.
“It is going to help people get where they need to go,” Buttigieg said of the project, one of nine chosen nationally for new funding, totaling $1.3 billion.
The line, when built, will stretch more than 25 miles from the Tidwell Transit Center to the area around the University of Houston, then westward through Midtown, Greenway Plaza, south of Uptown and eventually to Westchase. Buses will have their own dedicated lanes, either by taking existing lanes from local streets such as Lockwood and Richmond, or along its own route parallel to Westpark Drive.
Officials are wrapping up their second round of public meetings on plans for the route, with construction scheduled to start in late 2024. The buses could begin carrying riders in 2028. Current timelines, and all the federal funding, are contingent on the project being completely designed and Metro and federal officials agreeing on the project’s specifics next year.
Transit agency CEO Tom Lambert called the award “great news,” and credited staff for keeping the project on pace after voters approved the long-range plan in 2019, even as Metro maneuvered through a massive drop in ridership related to the COVID pandemic.
Metro’s board is set to consider, possibly later this month, the preferred route for the dedicated lanes.
See here, here, and here for some background. I’m eager to see the official preferred route – we have a route for the Inner Katy BRT line, which if all goes as planned will open a year earlier, in 2027 – and start thinking about how to actually get around town with these things. I will reiterate what I said in that Inner Katy post, which is that to truly realize the potential of these routes, some investment will need to be made along them both in increasing and improving the sidewalks that will connect the stops to the surrounding neighborhoods. For example, if there’s a stop along the Universities BRT at Westpark and Newcastle, building in about a half-mile of sidewalk along Newcastle to the south will connect to Bellaire (where there’s already a really nice and wide walking path) and the HCC West Loop campus. There’s no reason not to make this investment in maximizing the utility of these transit lines.
Also, too, and I’ll never not be bitter about this, but this would open 25 years after the Main Street light rail line, and what, 15 years after the various extensions were built. Had it not been for John Culberson, we could have already had a Universities light rail line in place and maybe be adding on to it instead of building this from scratch so many years later. I know there’s nothing to be gained from crying over this, and all we can do is work to make what we have now better, but this is a grudge I will hold till I die.