Some people who live not far from me are not very happy about the high speed rail line possibly running through their neighborhood.
The prospect of a high-speed train crossing through First Ward into downtown Houston has residents scrambling to weigh in on the proposal.
“I’m completely opposed to this project. I believe we can work collaboratively, but I don’t think the infrastructure of our neighborhood should be destroyed,” says Alexandra Orzeck, whose home is next to existing rail right-of-way eyed as a potential route for Texas Central Railway’s “bullet train” between Houston and Dallas. Property she owns in Rice Military also could be impacted.
Many of her neighbors agreed during a recent meeting to discuss the project with TCR President Robert Eckels, who is a former Harris County judge and state legislator, and David Hagy, the company’s community outreach director.
Ideally, the train would enter Houston’s central business district and connect riders with other local transit, maybe even other high-speed routes. But the train route might end elsewhere, like on Loop 610 or even further out on Beltway 8, Eckels said. A draft environmental impact statement being devised now by the Federal Railroad Administration and Texas Department of Transportation will factor into those decisions.
Local neighborhoods are particularly concerned since the rail company would have eminent domain authority to acquire property needed to build the high-speed rail.
Over the past decade, First Ward has enjoyed a residential and artistic renaissance. New, multistory townhomes continue to wedge their way into the neighborhood, which has a recently designated historic district. The well-known Winter Street and Silver Street artist studios helped establish a state Cultural Arts District here. More studios are coming soon.
Stakeholders say one of two preferred routes for the TCR project could bisect the Washington Avenue corridor on existing rail lines, either on Winter Street or Girard, where rail right of way is squeezed to 50 feet in some place. TCR has said it needs 80 feet.
Local leaders hesitate to support the other preferred route, too, because it impacts Near Northside neighborhoods. TCR should continue to investigate a third route that follows the Hardy corridor into downtown, they said.
Similar concerns are expressed in this Leader News story. A route along the Hardy corridor would make a Woodlands station feasible, so the folks here will have at least one set of allies in that quest. As we’ve discussed before, these are the same issues that will have to be dealt with if a commuter rail line moves forward as well. Of course, commuter trains don’t move at 200 MPH, so there’s that. At the very least, you’d want to review the Super Neighborhood 22 transportation master plan from 2010 that called for putting the existing freight rail tracks in that corridor into a trench to avoid at grade street crossings. It should be noted that Tom Dornbusch, one of the architects of that study, doesn’t think trenching would be sufficient to accommodate the high speed line; among other things, the corridor is too narrow, by Texas Central Railway’s own design specs.
Eckels mentions other possible locations for the line’s terminal, but putting it downtown really needs to be the goal. Just from a connectivity perspective, it makes the most sense. If that makes a Woodlands-friendly I-45/Hardy Toll Road approach the best option, then so be it. Someone will need to convince TCR and the state and federal officials of that.
The process of drafting an environmental impact statement will require TCR to respond to concerns including social and cultural impacts.
The process has been extended to Jan. 9. First Ward residents are asking that the railway administration schedule a public meeting in Houston.
That sounds sensible to me. Give everyone who would be affected the chance to have their say.