Big news on Metro railThe Metro board met today to make some big decisions on the rail plan (Chronicle story). The bombshell is that all the lines they thought were going to start as bus rapid transit (BRT) are being upgraded to full light rail (LRT). Evidently the numbers look good enough and the federal matching fund requirements look achievable, so they're going for it. That really surprises me, because everything I've read says the feds are more biased towards BRT over LRT than ever before (more bang for the buck). I'm still not sure it's the best use of money, but it does have some nice benefits that Christof points out:
- The Main St. line will be able to continue further north without a transfer
- Two of the lines on the east side will be able to share tracks on Scott Street
- It opens up the possibility for some University line trains to turn into Uptown rather than going out to the Hillcroft Transit Center, enabling a single seat ride to/from the Galleria area and avoiding transfers
Chalk up another benefit to our lack of zoning!
Later, after a press conference, John Sedlak, executive vice president at METRO, explained that METRO recommended immediate light rail to the board because the federal rules changed and allowed METRO to qualify its projects under the federal process.
"The change of federal rules allowed us to look at a system connectivity factor - to look at all the corridors tied together at one time. That allowed us to have a better performance on the overall system. That change allowed us to re-run our models, and they have a better ridership," said Sedlak.
In addition, the federal rules allowed METRO to include a factor known as "rail bias." While people accustomed to cars won't ride buses, they will board a train.
"We have been able to prove here in Houston that people ride the Houston light rail system just because it is rail," said Sedlak.
Third, since Houston has no zoning or land use controls, METRO was able to adjust its models to include a higher level of growth and development in the inner corridor of the city.
"That's been happening over the last decade, and in particular, around the rail line. And the federal government has accepted that change," said Sedlak.
As expected, they chose to go to Cummins on Richmond for the west side of the Universities line before it turns down to Westpark, which is the route with the most ridership and lowest cost (hey, so now maybe Westpark road can grow wider than 3 lanes with the unused right-of-way, and take some of the local east-west load off of Richmond?). On the east side, it goes down Wheeler to TSU, then up to Alabama and UH. The ultimate plan calls for it to go all the way to the Eastwood Transit Center (which would enable east side bus riders and southeast HOV bus riders to access it), but it's unclear whether the money will be available in phase 1. Christof talked to Metro Chairman David Wolff and seems optimistic they'll find the money.
Christof has put together a great map of the final system. Click here for the larger, more detailed and readable version. Update: Here's the Chronicle's map with facts/stats.