Construction of a light-rail line that would cross University of Houston property can continue now that UH and Metro officials settled differences that threatened to delay the project.
UH announced in a statement Tuesday that university officials have agreed to allow the Metropolitan Transit Authority to start the next phase of construction of the southeast line along Wheeler Avenue. In exchange, Metro will address concerns involving access to UH’s facilities.
The Metro board has agreed to pay $1.5 million to take the steps included in the agreement, according to spokesman Jerome Gray.
“We have worked diligently together to reach an agreement,” UH President Renu Khator said in a statement. “We have come to a resolution that both the university and Metro are happy with and that is in the best interests of the community.”
According to the agreement, Metro will be able to do the initial infrastructure work for installation of the light-rail along Wheeler Avenue from Calhoun/Martin Luther King Jr. to a point east of the Scott Street intersection.
A use agreement on the UH property along Scott where most of the needed land is located is still pending, however.
“We have worked diligently together to reach an agreement,” said UH President Renu Khator. “We have come to a resolution that both the university and Metro are happy with and that is in the best interests of the community. We look forward to completion of the Metro line and to the continuation of our partnership.”
Metro has agreed to provide an alternative access road to ease traffic problems caused by the construction of the rail along Wheeler, Richard Bonnin, UH executive director of media relations, said. Additionally, he said, access issues caused by construction of the line near the university’s Child Care Center and Department of Public Safety are being addressed by the transit agency.
I’m just glad they got this done. One less thing to worry about.
Meanwhile, on a not really related but still important note, Metro is having a special board meeting today to pick a referendum for the ballot.
The METRO Board of Directors will meet at 9 A.M. on Friday, August 3, 2012 to select a referendum proposal regarding METRO’s General Mobility Program. The Board has been listening to public input for the past several months at meetings throughout the METRO service area. Based on that input, Board Members have presented six possible referendum proposals and will now select one to be presented to voters in November. After voting on a referendum proposal the board will reconvene on August 17, 2012 to approve the ballot language and call for an election.
WHEN: 9 A.M. on FRIDAY, AUGUST 3, 2012
WHERE: Board Room, 1900 Main, Houston 77002 (Downtown Transit Ctr.)
For more about METRO’s 2012 General Mobility Program (GMP) Referendum Web page, click here.
The Chron story fills in some more details. Obviously, this is a big deal. I have no idea which way the Board is leaning, but I’ll say again that I favor Christof Spieler’s proposal, as a starting point if nothing else. Houston Tomorrow agrees with that assessment, and has sent this letter to the Metro board to express its support for the Spieler proposal. I hope it can build up a little momentum going into today’s meeting. Be that as it may, be there if you can. A joint statement from Houston Tomorrow and the CTC in favor of the Spieler proposal is beneath the fold.
Transit Advocates Urge the METRO Board to Give Voters a Pro-Transit Choice
Majority of Metro service area residents support increased transit investment; future rail lines along Richmond and Uptown at stake
With METRO set to choose a “concept” regarding transit funding that will go on the ballot as a referendum this November, Houston region community groups urged the Metro Board to give voters a choice to support increased investment in transit in the near term. Over 700 Houstonians have written emails to the Metro Board requesting they spend all of our transit taxes on transit, with over 100 in the last 24 hours.
What’s at stake is not “new” funding; but rather, how Metro and the region’s jurisdictions allocate the one penny sales tax set aside for transit that was approved by voters in 2003. Under that vote, 25% of the transit sales tax goes to 15 cities and unincorporated Harris County, ostensibly for street and road improvements. That diversion of funds has brought Metro to a standstill in terms of transit expansion after current light rail and park and ride projects are completed.
A growing coalition of civic groups, including Houston Tomorrow and Citizen’s Transportation Coalition, are urging the Metro Board to put forth a ballot measure that will encourage increased investment in transit for our region. These groups advocate for a strong transportation network that supports a vibrant and growing economy and provides safe, affordable, and reliable choices for all travelers. In a recent Houston Chronicle op-ed (http://www.houstontomorrow.org/commentary/story/houston-chronicle-op-ed/), 30 groups said “We encourage the mayors, county commissioners and Metro directors to do the responsible thing: Invest in the health and prosperity of all the people of the Houston region by vigorously creating a robust transit system more accessible for Houstonians of all ages and classes. No more important decision for the nature of our region will be made in our lifetimes.”
“Ridership on our new light rail lines is exceeding all projections, and with an expansion of the light rail system we’re on target to have the highest ridership per mile in the country,” said David Crossley, President of Houston Tomorrow. “With a guarantee of continued investment in our light rail, we have the opportunity to connect our region’s four largest job centers — Greenway Plaza and Uptown to Downtown and the Texas Medical Center — putting nearly half a million jobs within a half-mile walk of high quality transit service,” he said.
Rebecca Tapick, board member of the Citizen’s Transportation Coalition, said, “We urge the METRO board to put forward a ballot measure that gets our already-successful rail system growing soon. With more than tens of thousands of residents of our region relying on transit to get to school, jobs, and basic services, we need a system that is effective and efficient while giving people a choice in how they get around.”
Crossley also points out the economic development benefits of transit to the City of Houston. “We have an incredible opportunity to grow our tax base in the city. Property values rose 63% along the Main Street line from 2003-2010. In the City as a whole, property values rose only 37% from 2004-2011, approximately the same period. Clearly tax base grows much faster around rail stations than in general.”
In a letter to Mayor Parker, Houston Tomorrow and Citizen’s Transportation Coalition thanked the Metro Board members for their commitment to funding transit and urged METRO to support Board member Christof Spieler’s proposal, because it does the most to:
• Enable real progress on transit expansion in the next 5 years
• Keep the promise of the 2003 transit referendum
• Support economic growth by expanding access to the region’s largest job centers
• Continue Metro’s investment in our region’s roadways
• Ensure the fair share of sales taxes are returned to contributing entities
Spieler’s proposal also appears to be the only one that would enable construction of the University light rail line, which is the vital backbone of Houston’s light rail network.
“We urge the Mayor, our elected officials, and the Metro Board to support a ballot concept that gives voters the choice of continuing to invest in our transit system. Voters have clearly said they want the money spent on transit,” said Crossley.
The pro-transit coalition is holding a rally outside of Metro Headquarters (1900 Main at the Downtown Transit Center) at 8:30am on Friday, August 3, 2012. Some will meet at the Hermann Park light rail station at 7:45 AM and ride the rail to METRO headquarters.