The Metropolitan Transit Authority is expected to ask voters next fall for more than $3 billion in borrowing authority to implement its next wave of transit projects.
The 20-year plan laid out by Metro officials includes roughly 20 more miles of light rail, 75 miles of bus rapid transit and 110 miles of two-way HOV lanes along area freeways.
The plan, based on studies and public feedback, focuses on beefing up service in core areas where buses and trains already are drawing riders and connecting suburban residents and jobs in those areas.
“We are making sure what we are doing here in the metro service area blends into the region,” Metro CEO Tom Lambert said. “How do we make sure we are putting together an environment and place that connects one mode of transportation to other modes of transportation.”
The overall price tag for the plan is $7.5 billion, more than half of which would be funded via state and federal transportation monies.
Unlike previous Metro capital plans that spent roughly $1 billion in local money on the Red Line light rail, its northern extension and the Green and Purple lines, the current plan would spend more on buses — specifically bus rapid transit — along key routes where officials believe better service can connect to more places and, in turn, lure more riders. The estimated cost of about 75 miles of bus rapid transit is $3.15 billion.
Officials believe BRT, as it is called, delivers the same benefits as rail, but at less cost with more flexibility, giving Metro the ability to alter service to meet demand. For riders, it would be a rail-like experience and different from buses that operate on set timelines.
“If you can get a service people can bank on and count on, you don’t need a schedule,” Lambert said.
BRT operates similar to light rail with major station stops along dedicated lanes used only by the buses, though they may share some streets with automobile traffic. The region’s first foray into bus rapid transit is under construction along Post Oak in the Uptown area. Service is scheduled to start in early- to mid-2020.
The MetroNext plan calls for at least five bus rapid transit projects:
Interstate 45 — which is poised for its own massive rebuild by TxDOT — from downtown to Bush Intercontinental Airport
Interstate 10 from downtown to the proposed Texas Bullet Train terminal at Loop 610 and U.S. 290
Gessner from Metro’s West Little York park and ride to its Missouri City park and ride
Extending Uptown’s planned rapid transit to the Gulfton Transit Center
A proposed fifth BRT is a revised version of the University Line light rail that Metro proposed and then shelved because of a lack of progress and intense opposition. The line, which some consider the most-needed major transit line in the region, would tie the University of Houston and Texas Southern University areas to downtown and then the Uptown area.
Since becoming chair of Metro in 2016, [Carrin] Patman has said the downtown-to-Uptown connection is the missing link in major transit investment within Loop 610. However, she has stressed that light rail may not be the best mode.
Though officials have pivoted from trains to buses with much of the plan, nearly $2.5 billion in new rail is being proposed, including the extension of both the Green Line along Harrisburg and the Purple Line in southeast Houston to Hobby Airport. The airport legs alone are estimated to cost close to $1.8 billion even though they are expected to draw fewer riders than any of the bus rapid transit routes.
All the details, which as Metro Chair Patman notes can and will change as the community dialogue continues, can be found at MetroNext.org. A press release with a link to Patman’s “State of Metro” presentation last week is here. I will of course be keeping an eye on this, and I definitely plan to interview Patman about the referendum once we get a little farther into the year. And let’s be clear, even if I didn’t have other reasons to dislike Bill King, I don’t want him to ever have any power over Metro. If we want to have any shot at having decent transit in this city, he’s the last person we want as Mayor.