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Metro makes change to east end of Universities line

One more change for the route of the Universities Line.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority board voted Thursday to reroute the planned University light rail line away from a half-mile stretch of Wheeler Avenue following months of entreaties by residents and elected officials.

The audience responded with a rare burst of applause after the unanimous vote. Earlier, speakers who had raked the agency at the City Council and neighborhood meetings were generous with praise.

“The proposed route is good because now we won’t have a train that passes through a historic neighborhood,” said Cheryl Armitige, who grew up in the Third Ward.

[…]

The original route went east on Wheeler from Main, north on Ennis and east on Alabama to Scott at the University of Houston. Metro says it intends, if possible, to extend it north to Elgin and east across the Gulf Freeway to the Eastwood Transit Center.

The new route would turn north from Wheeler on Hutchins, east on Cleburne, north on Dowling and continue east on Alabama to Scott as before.

The difference in length is negligible, but the change likely will boost the cost for the segment east of Main from $185 million to $200 million because it would require new design and engineering work, environmental impact studies and public meetings, Metro officials said.

Having the line on Alabama, which is less residential than Wheeler, would have less impact on residents and be more likely to attract development, [Metro board member Gerald] Smith said.

He attributed the opposition on Wheeler largely to quality-of-life concerns about loss of land in front of homes and the noise and vibration from the trains. But [Council Member Jolanda] Jones said she was also concerned that large-scale development and gentrification would follow, changing the character of the historically black neighborhood.

So the residents of the Third Ward got what they wanted, just as the residents of Afton Oaks on the west end of the route did. Good for them, and good for Metro for doing what it can to accommodate them. Looking at the before-and-after maps (see the sidebar in the story, or these three maps provided by Metro), this means the train will not directly approach TSU, or run along its western border. It will have the same station location, so the service TSU gets from the line will be the same. Metro’s press release on the change says that the ridership projections are the same, which makes sense if none of the stations move. More on the residents’ concerns here and here.

Unclear from this is how it will affect the FTA approval/funding process. At this point, the other lines are farther along in securing funds. The U-line is the linchpin of the expanded system, and it’s already behind, plus it still has the Scarbrough lawsuit to deal with. I just hope this change doesn’t set things back any more.

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