Some East End residents are still unhappy about the way the Harrisburg light rail line is shaping up.
East End residents overwhelmingly supported the rail line in a 2003 referendum, thinking it would boost the redevelopment already taking place. Back then, however, Metro’s plans did not include a mammoth, six-block-long overpass to cross existing Union Pacific freight rail tracks at Hughes or a rail car maintenance facility near Harrisburg.
Neighborhood residents still support the rail line, but some residents and civic leaders worry the planned overpass will split the neighborhood and inhibit future redevelopment. They also don’t like the extra industry that will be added to the area by the four-block-long rail maintenance facility.
Since Metro announced the plan last summer, residents have grown increasingly resentful and complain that the transit agency is not considering their concerns.
The tension was evident two weeks ago when some community residents and leaders implored City Council and Mayor Bill White to “stop this preposterous overpass.”
For what it’s worth, the issue first came to light in March, at which time the plan was to simply stop the line before the freight tracks. A month later, an agreement was reached to bypass the freight rail tracks one way or another.
Metro’s board voted on the Harrisburg line in June 2006 after more than 70 community meetings, agency spokesman George Smalley said.
Many argue that the overpass would shut off a portion of the boulevard and increase noise throughout the neighborhood.
The proposed overpass, planned to span from Cowling to 66th, would rise 26 feet above a rail line, tall enough to allow a double-stacked rail car to pass below. It would accommodate light rail trains, two traffic lanes and sidewalks.
“It’s going to be just massive,” said Robert Gallegos, president of the Houston Country Club Place Civic Club. “It would be a blight for generations to come that live in the East End.”
Some have called on Metro to build an underpass instead, saying it would be cheaper and less disruptive to the neighborhood.
They cite a 2004 Harris County report that estimated the cost of an underpass at $16 million.
Smalley dismissed the report as dated and said it did not take into account the cost of the actual rail line.
Metro has estimated the cost of an overpass at $45 million. Going under the freight rail line instead would drive the cost anywhere from $67 million to $81 million, Metro estimates.
“It’s long past time for planning and process,” Smalley said. “It’s time to build a better future.”
Councilman James Rodriguez, who represents the East End, agrees with Metro that an overpass is the only feasible option.
“My goal is to get a rail line built on time and allow it to serve my constituents,” he said.
In a letter to his constituents, Rodriguez said that continued debate jeopardized funds promised for the line.
“We run the risk of losing the line all together if we do not move forward and begin discussing the design of an overpass,” he wrote.
That overpass does sound massive. I can definitely understand the concern. I’m not sure that an underpass, if intended for the light rail line and the vehicular traffic, would be any less disruptive, however, since it would probably need to be about as long. I suppose the ideal solution would be to build an underpass for the freight rail line, but I’m guessing that’s out of the question. Not sure what else there is to say, other than Metro needs to engage the community in the design of this thing. Groundbreaking for this line was in June. It’s time to get moving.