Houston Readies Four Light Rail Lines by 2012

Houston Metro is close to signing contracts on four new rail linesHouston Light Rail Network

Houston, which currently operates one light rail line along its Main Street corridor, has been planning for a large expansion over the past several years, and it is close to beginning construction on four new lines, all of which will open by 2012. The corridors, summarized in the schematic map to the right, will connect downtown Houston to the northern, eastern, and southeastern sides of the city, as well as provide a connector within the Uptown neighborhood. The University line, which will connect the existing 7.5-mile Main Street line to the Uptown line, will begin construction later as it is still in the design stage after years of conflict over its precise alignment. All together, the planned corridors will add 30.2 miles of light rail to the city.

The Metro Solutions Plan, which guides transit development in Houston, estimated last year that the lines will cost a total of $2.6 billion to build, though the contract which is likely to be finalized over the next few days with Parsons Transportation Group will clarify construction costs for the system.

Residents of Houston approved the transportation plan’s five light rail corridors in 2003 by a 52 to 48% margin, but by 2005, facing increasing problems guaranteeing funding from the federal government, the city decided to transform plans for some of the lines to light rail-ready bus rapid transit corridors. Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX), from Houston, was an especially strident critic of light rail and single-handedly cut off Federal Transit Authority funding for rail to the city. In 2007, after Mr. Delay’s dramatic fall from power and the takeover of Congress by more transit-friendly Democrats, Metro reversed its decision, deciding finally that building light rail from the start would make the most sense.

Houston’s new push for light rail is good news for the United States’ fourth-largest city, with 2.2 million inhabitants in the city itself and 5.6 million in the metro area. Its Main Street corridor has been incredibly successful, with the second-highest light rail ridership per mile in the country after Boston’s Green Line, serving about 40,000 riders a day overall. Further corridors, especially those connecting to the University of Houston and to the very popular Uptown area, will likely be equally popular.

The city’s light rail system plan differs from that of most other cities, because though it focuses some lines on the city’s downtown, it also has connections between corridors at other regional centers, reflecting the metro area’s polycentric form, which has significant job and housing areas outside of what is typically considered the central business district. Houston’s decision to build a network as such will be a first-in-the-nation experiment, demonstrating whether or not rapid transit systems have to be centered on a downtown to be effective. Its example will potentially provide other huge, sprawling sunbelt cities such as Phoenix and San Antonio, which currently lack well-developed transit systems, a way forward towards non-automobile-based mobility and the resulting increased densification.

13 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Robert

    I think this is a really good article and I’m proud to see my hometown doing as much work on light rail as it is.

    However, Metro’s apparant emphasis on light rail at the expense of bus service that will remain the work horse for transport in the city would be unfortunate. I wish I could say that this is just a fear, but I’ve observed that today this is already a problem as the agency’s blog, blogs.ridemetro.org, talks almost exclusively about how awesome its light rail system will be but spends no time at all discussing its efforts to get buses run on-time.

    This is a significant concern in a city where bad traffic and choked arterties (Westheimer in particular) makes on-time buses an extreme rarity. As a matter of fact, I have never ridden a bus in Houston that was on-time. Not once in 7 years.

  • Alanna

    Robert, as someone who had the “pleasure” of riding the bus system in Houston, I can also testify to their lateness. The second-worst bus arrival time I experienced was 45 minutes late (try explaining that to your boss during the pre-cellphone era). The worst bus was the one that actually never showed up and I had to walk several miles down Westheimer at 1am to get home.

    That said, I think that investing in LRT in Houston is a very important measure and I can only hope that they will exhibit a similar level of commitment in the future. After all, LRT has a higher exhibited likelihood of getting people out of their cars and into transit than any bus system could. We can all agree that Houston needs less cars on the street, right? That could, of course, also improve bus arrival times.

    Thanks for mentioning San Antonio. It’s my current place of stay and the people of San Antonio are BEGGING for light rail in absolutely every transportation forum discussion I’ve been to. We’ve got a bit of a shame face from our 2001 vote against light rail, but we are more the wiser for it. Unfortunately, LRT isn’t being seriously propositioned by any political figure in San Antonio that could actually get it done. Officially, VIA is studying one BRT corridor (which, to me, is a short-sighted substitute for LRT) and that… is basically it. The rest of the transportation authority is too busy trying to get toll roads into San Antonio (welcome to the 1990s, SA! glad you could finally make it!).

    It’s pretty much hair-tearing slow progress in San Antonio…

  • Dean

    Groundbreaking took place on Monday 2009/07/13 for the four new lines serving North, East and Southeast corridors.

    http://www.ridemetro.org/News/Releases/2009/07132009.aspx

  • Gail

    We don’t want the toy train in the Galleria!!!!! It will be horrible for traffic & business!!!!!! WHY DON’T PEOPLE IN HIGH PLACES LISTEN TO THOSE OF US WHO ACTUALLY WORK IN THE AREA???!!!!!!

  • why dont people in high places wa wa wa wa wa why dont snobs in high places stop whining and just embrace infrastructure and be glad we live in a city where we have the resources to improve public transportation that actually helps offset this crappy economy we are in. If people actually educated themselves instead of repeating the same old repedative rhedaric they hear from there snobby buddies they would know infrastructure aka the literail is good for buisness in the long run so wa wa wa wa wa wa go cry yourself to sleep in your galleria loft apartment wa wa wa wa wa

  • Ocean Railroader

    I’m glad they are looking at the Edge Cities that may not be in the centeral city such as the fastly growing Edge Cities who need atention. If they can get the Edge Cities who get to have light rail stops too along with the centeral city then they will help build up suport across the area. Not mention add some nice places to vist on the light rail system.

  • steven

    I have waited an hour in the past while a bus driver took a break and I had to call metro to find out what was going on.Perhaps he was asleep or something.Anyway I do not believe the transit system is worth it without the day,weekly and monthly passes when you look at expense and inconvenience.It also takes to long to get around on the transit system.

  • B.C.McKinney

    As an architecture student and native Houstonian.I am currently glad to see some kind of effort, as small as it may be, to improve the lives of Houstonians who want the choice of rididng public transit or driving. I feel those who oppose it don’t have to ride it, those who do, let’s get to making some changes in the city.

    I recently moved back from Los Angeles where the public transit is awesome, and still expanding and improving. Within this year a new westward line (Expo) is opening up, compatible to the University line in Hosuton (which has taken forever to even break ground upon), and it will help even more change the face of those who choose to ride public transit and are unable to afford driving in Los Angeles. The face of public transit has taken so long for Houston to even get a view of what this great city could be like, its almost comical the way the Houston City Council has treated this like a all expense paid courting vacation, not to mention any names. It is a shame that in 2025 will Houstonians begin to see a change for the betterment of our infastructure. So for the next fifteen years we will be left to wonder what the world of freedom of mobility will be like. One could compare it to the wait of citizenship to America. You can see the others living it, can even visit, but you are not able to just up and move without major changes, so you wait…and wait…and wait. So for my fellow Houston Metro Rail Enthusiasts, the wait is on.

    My Vision as a Native and Future Houstonian:
    I hope to see the airports, sports facilities, urban centers, ship channel, and all other major centers that could stimulate lots of growth in all fields of jobs, and move Houstonians and visitors alike around the fourth largest city in America. For example, I wanted to visit some of my friends one day in Huntington Beach, California. I took the blue line train to Long Beach. Got off at Long Beach and went caught the A bus to Seal Beach, and got off there and took the PCH (1) to Main street in Huntington Beach. I then decided to go meet some friends up at The Grove in LA. I did the reverse, and took the Blue line all the way Downtown to the red line to Wilshire/Vermont and took the Rapid bus to The Grove. If I wanted to visit friends in Galveston, there is only one way to do so…car. If I wanted to catch the train to meet a friend at the airport, I couldn not, there is only one way to do so…car.

    I am not simply comparing Houston to Los Angeles by means of copying the second largest city in America and the ninth largest by population in the world, ranked number five in the worst driving times in the world. I feel Houston should surpass the likes of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington D.C., and choose transportation for all of the six million in the area, for those who want to and arent able to choose between the two; driving or public transit.

  • Chubby

    I’m very proud of all the work and preperation that the board is doing in regards to the Houston light rail project. Dallas is leading the way right now in the light rail in the United States. I see Houston going far ahead and beyond Dallas and leading the light rail industry. We have the greatest Doctors in the world in the Medical Center, we need to get all the people in the world to there facilities down town Houston on the Metro light rail. We have the greatest Mayor now in the united States and she is going to push and push so this will happen.
    Thank you all Lets go Houston light rail (HIGH BALL)

  • Sunni

    I recently moved to a place on the light rail. I had mixed feelings about it before the move, but after riding it for several months I refuse to move anywhere that is not walking distance to one of the stops. It is so convenient, and I was surprised at how many people actually used it. I think those opposed are just not used to the concept. They’re uncomfortable using it and therefore don’t want to pay for it. That’s understandable. Unfortunately that’s something every community is going to encounter but you have to progress. It’s not reasonable to just remain stagnant. That being said I agree with McKinney. If you don’t want to ride it, don’t. And as for us lightrailers, we will continue enjoying no red lights, no parking fees (thus no parking tickets), less gas expenses, no traffic, no road rage, sitting hands-free in the AC :)

  • I have not found an analysis that shows that the problems cited could not be solved faster, better and cheaper with a combination of additional buses, better buses, and traffic laws and corridors that treat buses with same right of way privilege as trains. Does anyone have a link to that sort of analysis. Plese post any such links at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Light-Rail-in-Houston/256169177735525.

    Thanks.

  • Obviously “plese” should be “please”

  • Judy

    Someone needs to put a stop to the ones riding without paying! I’m tired of paying taxes and paying my fare which contributes to the funding of this rail while others jump on it and ride for free because they feel they are deserving. GIVE ME A BREAK!!!

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