Meeting to discuss commuter rail study

If you’ve been itching to make a public comment about the new commuter rail study, your opportunity is here.

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.

I’m not sure how much it matters that the study differs from the 2003 referendum. Some of what the referendum called for, like a line going west on the Katy Freeway, is no longer an option; some of what the study calls for are things that we probably would have gotten around to anyway regardless of the referendum. I suppose there’s always the potential for someone to sue.

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.

That’s a lot of money, though perhaps if we just think of it as being the equivalent of the Katy Freeway expansion, it doesn’t seem that bad – I mean, for the price of one freeway expansion, you get five new commuter rail lines. Not a bad swap, really. And with Park and Ride buses full to capacity, increasingly needed. The point is that this isn’t going to happen without federal funds, and that isn’t going to happen without broad consensus, especially since as that Rad Sallee column notes, it’s going to take more than Metro to make this happen. So if you have questions about this plan, like Christof does, now would be a good time to start asking them.

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts
This entry was posted in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Meeting to discuss commuter rail study

  1. The referendum is pretty much irrelevant here. No city approval is required to put commuter rail along existing rail tracks, so the city charter language that required the 2003 referendum doesn’t apply. And this isn’t a METRO plan anyway. What will matter is finding funding, and that may well require multiple referendums — none of the suburban counties have transit taxes that could pay for this.

Comments are closed.