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Crosstown (rail) traffic

Approving the construction contract with Parsons is a big step forward for the long-awaited light rail expansion in Houston. But there’s still a lot more to be done.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority will look to the Federal Transit Administration for help funding the University line. The FTA has yet to approve Metro’s environmental impact study for the line, a key element in moving the project forward.

“I’m feeling the frustration of a lot of people in this organization who are trying to get through this process,” Metro spokesman George Smalley said Thursday.

He also conceded the University line may not be completed along with the other lines by 2012, as Metro had projected. That, in turn, could affect the completion of the Uptown line.

That is because the east-west University line would connect the 4.7-mile Uptown line with the rest of the MetroRail system.

In other words, no University line, no Uptown train.

“It wouldn’t be prudent to build the Uptown line if we had no hope for the University line,” President and CEO Frank J. Wilson said Wednesday. “But if the University line is proceeding as we expect, then there’s not a reason to hold Uptown back either. It’s a carefully choreographed set of moves here.”

The Universities line has the highest ridership projection of all the new routes, followed by the Uptown line. It was always proposed as light rail, never as BRT, so the EIS didn’t change as it did for the other non-Uptown lines. It’s a linchpin to the whole system and will have the biggest impact on inner Loop mobility. Of course, it’s also been the subject of a lawsuit, which I feel confident will get filed again once we get closer to the construction phase, , not to mention the politics referenced in the story, so it could be a lot farther away from completion than Metro is willing to admit. For now, we really need to get that contract written and approved so we can at least hope to meet that 2012 goal. Christof has more on the contract that was signed this week.

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