From the Inbox:
Houston Mayor and METRO Seek Common Ground on East End Line
Resolution of Harrisburg/Hughes Streets Over/Under Question Becomes a Milestone
The city of Houston has concluded there is “strong sentiment” within the East End community for an underpass at Harrisburg/Hughes St. and has requested METRO’s Board of Directors vote in support of a plan to create a grade separated betterment for light rail and vehicular traffic. This “All-Under Option,” according to Houston Mayor Annise Parker, is intended to “promote pedestrian and vehicular safety in the area and encourage community development, and enhance overall mobility in the East End.” The city has committed $20.6 million in financial support for the project.
Although the underpass route is influenced by numerous considerations, the decision of whether or not to support the request will ultimately rest with the METRO Board of Directors. METRO Chairman, Gilbert Garcia, hopes to bring the complex matter up for vote by the directors this Thursday.
“We appreciate Mayor Parker’s efforts to build consensus in this lingering community debate. I congratulate the Mayor, Council members, Ed Gonzalez, James Rodriguez, and Melissa Noriega, as well as community representatives, the Mayor’s staff and METRO’s staff for working together on this issue.” said Garcia.
METRO President & CEO George Greanias said the “all under option” will take longer to build, possibly two years longer, and the extra cost of $20-23 million does not cover a pedestrian tunnel. “Despite the hurdles ahead, this request is a good example of community partnerships. We look forward to working with the city in seeing this project to completion.” said Greanias.
Of the $20.6 million in financial assistance being offered by the city:
- $10.0 million – CIP funds previously committed to this issue
- $4.9 million - Postponement of the Fulton Paving and Drainage Project (Dist. H)
- $3.2 million - Postponement of the Telephone Road Reconstruction (Dist. I)
- $2.5 million - Harrisburg TIRZ funds
METRO’s original design for the crossing accommodated light-rail only. The city of Houston, after extensive dialog with the community, commissioned a study on the feasibility of constructing an underpass. The betterment will require collaboration with Houston Belt and Terminal (HBT) Railroad, and creation of a new and temporary terminus at Altic. Offsetting the higher cost, however, is an added value to railroad operations – the new design, according to the city, will ease flooding impairments. In return for METRO’s support, the city of Houston has offered to make funds available in a timely fashion, as well as collaborate to seek more funds and support METRO in negotiations for necessary concessions from HBT. The matter will go before the full METRO Board of Directors, at its regular monthly meeting Thursday, July 28th.
UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story.
George Greanias, Metro’s president and chief executive officer, said the need for detailed design work means the underpass likely won’t be complete until 2016, two years after the scheduled completion date for the East End, North and Southeast lines. However, trains will run from downtown to the station nearest the underpass by 2014, Metro spokesman Jerome Gray said.
To help pay Metro’s share of the cost, Greanias said the agency would look to Harris County as well as railroads that benefit from the grade separation. The East End line is not federally funded.
Council member Sue Lovell, chairwoman of the city’s Transportation, Infrastructure and Aviation Committee, said the decision to build the underpass represents the city’s and Metro’s shared response to a community request.
“Metro could have just built the overpass, but they decided to listen to the community,” said Lovell, who initially opposed the underpass. “They presented to the community that it would cost more, and the community overwhelmingly said they wanted to have the underpass.”
Also, she said, a bigger variety of businesses can be built along an underpass than in the shadow of a viaduct.
“The advantages to economic development in the long run for the neighborhoods more than make up what they may sacrifice right now in the CIP,” she said.
Marilu de la Fuente, president of the Harrisburg Heritage Society and a member of the East End Chamber’s rail committee, said the underpass decision showed the community’s power.
“Finally we got everyone involved,” she said. “They started listening to us and they knew we were a force to be reckoned with.”
No question about that. There was a lot of opposition to the overpass in the community, and a lot of grumbling at that time about Metro ignoring the feedback they were getting. This change of direction says as much about Metro as it does about the power and persistence of the residents.