Not sure what’s up with this.
Half a year after receiving a long-delayed $450 million federal funding grant for its Southeast line, Metro appears to have run into almost as big an obstacle to progress on that light-rail alignment much closer to home – the University of Houston.
“I can confirm for you that UH did ask Metro to move the lines off campus,” Richard Bonnin, executive director of UH Media Relations, said recently.
The Metro’s route, as submitted to the Department of Transportation, shows the Southeast line running on university property along Wheeler Street, then turning north along UH property on Scott Street. Transit agency records show that design requires 4.48 acres of university land, or roughly 11 percent of all acquisitions needed for the Southeast alignment.
To date, with construction well under way, Metro has been unable to buy any of that property, despite having obtained all land necessary for the rest of the route. That construction at two locations approaching the UH campus – one on Wheeler, one on Scott – came to a standstill about two months ago has caused concern among Metro builders.
“If this (UH land acquisition) takes much longer to bring to fruition, it will start to impact the overall schedule,” Doug Reehl, program director for Houston Rapid Transit, told the Metro board on March 22.
He added, “ideally” the impasse can be resolved within the next couple months, but “mitigating that time impact after four months will be very difficult.”
To date there has been no movement.
I can understand why UH might have some concerns about the on-campus property that Metro wants to use for this line. What I don’t understand is why this dispute is just coming up now. The basic outline of the Southeast Line route has been known since 2006. As the story notes, Metro formally submitted a route proposal to the feds as part of its Supplemental Environmental Impact Study in April of 2008; that routs is largely unchanged today. Groundbreaking on the Southeast Line was July of 2009. Construction was restarted after the Buy America fiasco in January, 2011. When exactly did it begin to occur to UH that they may have some concerns about this route?
I get that UH is in a different place now than they were in, say, 2009, with their new stadium plans and all, and that they have reason to be concerned about the effect on their available parking space. But the whole point of having this rail line go where it’s going to to help reduce the need for parking, especially for athletic events. Nothing is stopping UH from building a parking garage to supplement its surface parking, either. Be all that as it may, I’m not happy that this far-too-long-delayed project could be thrown back even more by late intransigence from another public institution. Even if Metro were willing to accommodate UH on this, would that incur further federal studies or records requests or whatever else? We’re too far along to get bogged down by that. Let’s get this settled and get it moving along already. Swamplot has more.