Here’s another story about progress on a proposed commuter rail line, this one out US 290. A study to determine ridership on the line, which would go as far west as Hempstead, will be done.
The Houston-based engineering firm Klotz Associates will do the $715,000 study. The Gulf Coast Rail District got the money from federal stimulus funds.
The line as presently envisioned would start somewhere near the junction of U.S. 290 and Loop 610 and head north along an existing freight rail line.
In other words, the eastern end of this line would be proximate to the northern end of the Uptown line. Hold that thought for a minute.
The launch of the study is a milestone, said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who is not a formal participant in the planning but has promoted it the commuter line as vital to the region.
“It’s a real step as opposed to people just talking about it, and real money is being spent to get this process moving,” Emmett said.
Part of the Klotz work is to determine whether what is known as the Eureka corridor line is a viable option. [Gulf Coast Rail District Board Chair Mark] Ellis believes it will be.
The Gulf Coast Rail District would also need to strike a deal with the Metropolitan Transit Authority because the commuter rail line alone will not complete most commutes.
Passengers delivered to the Northwest Transit Center near U.S. 290 and Loop 610 will need quick passage to downtown and other employment hubs.
I trust we can all agree that the value of this Hempstead line declines considerably if there is no Uptown line for it to connect to, and no University line for the Uptown line to connect to. Same for the ridership projections. I hope that Klotz presents different scenarios in its report, one with a fully functional rail system, and one without. I for one would not be surprised if the line isn’t feasible without this connection.
(Another scenario to consider is that someday Metro may finally get around to building the Inner Katy light rail line that was also approved in the 2003 referendum but not made part of the initial expansion plans. That, or at least one variation of it, would be the logical extension of the Hempstead line into downtown. Again, you have to figure that would have a positive effect on ridership numbers, which in turn makes the whole endeavor that much more worthwhile.)
But of course what we’re talking about now is whether, not when, the two U lines will be built because maybe Metro doesn’t have the money for them. I think by now you know where I stand on this. I’m bringing it up again as another reminder that the value in having a built-out rail system is bigger than just the light rail part of it. I have observed that commuter rail has a lot of support from people who aren’t fans of light rail. Some people argued before the Main Street line was built that we should have built commuter rail first. I have always felt that unless there’s something for those commuter rail lines to connect to, they’re not doing much more than what the existing buses from the suburbs provide. Each part has value, but sum of the parts, which maybe someday will include high speed passenger rail as well, is greater than the parts themselves. A letter to the editor that I missed in Saturday’s edition from Metro executive vice president John Sedlak about its bus service is beneath the fold. David Crossley and Andrew Burleson have more on related topics.
Rick Casey’s Friday column (“Metro can’t let rail jeopardize its buses,” Page B1) should have included more evidence on precisely how Metro is putting bus service first.
For the previous five fiscal years, Metro has spent $34 million improving the existing rail line on Main Street. During that same period, $518 million was spent improving bus service — a 15 times greater investment in bus service than rail service.
Improvements to bus service included: 365 new buses, part of a plan to purchase 100 new hybrid buses per year; four new Park and Ride lots and 3,150 new parking spaces; five new local routes; two new Signature bus routes; 200-plus new passenger shelters/stations; and adjusting running time to improve reliability on 50-plus routes.
Unlike the example of Los Angeles cited by Casey, no court needed to force Houston Metro to make these investments. Our bus fleet has been, and will continue to be, the backbone of Houston’s transit system.
John Sedlak, executive vice president, Metro