Two major transportation projects scheduled to open in Houston this week – perhaps on the same day – represent distinct and sometimes warring visions of regional mobility and growth.
On Saturday, the Metropolitan Transit Authority will open its Red Line light rail extension from downtown to just north of Loop 610. And state transportation officials tentatively plan to start service Saturday on Segment E of the Grand Parkway, giving toll-paying drivers an option to get from Interstate 10 in Katy to U.S. 290 while avoiding some of Houston’s most tangled interchanges.
The North Line is one of three new light rail lines set to open in the next 12 months, representing the first expansion of train service outside the line serving the central business district, Texas Medical Center and Reliant Park area. For the first time, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said, rail will come to neighborhoods where people live.
“It fits into improving mobility inside Loop 610,” Emmett said, noting it gives those without a car much better access.
The light rail will run longer hours and more frequently than the bus service it is replacing, said Tom Lambert, Metro’s interim CEO.
Already, signs of change in the north side neighborhoods around the rail line are evident. A few new houses and apartments are popping up along Fulton Street and the surrounding blocks. Many believe the rail line is a factor.
Metro board member Dwight Jefferson noted that while north side residents will have improved transit service, visitors will have improved access to the area.
“People will get to see parts of the city they haven’t seen before,” Jefferson said on a recent test trip up the North Line.
There’s going to be a big party at Moody Park on Saturday to celebrate the North Line’s opening. I’m excited about the North Line opening because it’s the closest line to my house. According to Google Maps, it’s 1.7 miles to the Quitman station. Too far to walk, but easily accessible by bike. For now, that probably means weekend trips only, but a few years down the line, when the kids no longer require being dropped off at school, who knows? In the meantime, it’s an extra option, and for things like sporting events or other downtown and Med Center activities, it’s not having to worry about parking. We’ve waited for this for a long time, and I’m ready for it. Houston Strategies, who had a preview of the North Line last week, has more.