Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Metro Meeting + Big Dig, Roads vs. Trees, and the Astrodome

Continuing Transportation Week here at Houston Strategies, we have a raft of items tonight. First, the small stuff.
  • "Big Dig" collapse a blow to urban dream - an article about how mega-public projects, especially tunnels, are rapidly losing credibility because of the ongoing Big Dig problems (if the nails weren't already in that coffin after the 4x multi-billion-dollar cost overruns).
  • A little factoid of interest from "Ask Marilyn" in the Sunday Chronicle Parade section: if you added up all the road pavement in the country, it would only cover Indiana, but trees cover one-third of the country. I've also heard the stat that only about 5% of the country is urbanized.
The big story is the Metro Solutions University Corridor meeting I went to tonight. The Chronicle already has a preliminary story out (updated this morning, including a map graphic in the paper but not online). Metro is on a 2-week info/publicity blitz to sell the line and determine the best final routing. There are still far more route options than I thought they'd be showing at this point, but here are a few takeaways:
  • Under a Richmond alignment, no land needs to be acquired west of Kirby, no median oak trees lost west of Shepherd, no traffic lanes would be lost, most left-turn movements would remain, and no neighborhoods would be closed off. Impressive. That takes care of most of my concerns.
  • They distributed a white paper by the Gulf Coast Institute titled "Mitigation of Business Interruption During Light Rail Construction", based on six case studies in other cities. It's late and I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but it's clear Metro is trying hard to not make the same Main St. construction mistakes, and they want to convince businesses along Richmond they will be taken care of during construction.
  • Crossovers from Richmond to Westpark at Greenway Plaza would require elevated flyovers for 59. These crossovers would be to avoid Afton Oaks. The at-grade crossover at the SPRR right-of-way seems to make the most sense if they decide to avoid Afton Oaks. They also have a Shepherd/Greenbriar option, but that makes little sense, as it would leave Greenway Plaza unconnected. I'm also glad they're not considering a Weslayan crossover, which would be a traffic nightmare.
  • The line may now extend as far west as the Hillcroft Transit Center. Undetermined if it will be an LRT extension of the Universities line, or a BRT extension of the Uptown line.
  • The Universities line may continue up Post Oak as far as the Galleria, so no transfer to the Uptown line would be necessary. This is a Christof recommendation and a very, very good idea.
  • The line on the eastside may end up on Elgin, very far from TSU, which I think would be a mistake. Wheeler through the TSU campus makes the most sense, but Alabama is the best second choice. If TSU doesn't want it running completely through the campus, I think the best route would be Wheeler to TSU, then up the old empty railroad right-of-way to either Alabama or Elgin.
  • The East End BRT line will probably run along Harrisburg.
  • They have some killer color printers that do amazing, gigantic paper rolls of detailed satellite photos. It was very cool to really be able to see deep detail along the routes.
Hopefully Metro will have more info published here, including maps, by the time you read this (Powerpoint here, handout map here).

Finally, this doesn't really have to do with transportation, but I wanted to comment on the Astrodome plan in today's Chronicle article. My previous thoughts on repurposing the Astrodome can be found here. The ramp sounds a little over the top (so to speak), and then there's the "2,100-space, multistory parking garage would wrap around two-thirds of the Astrodome and markedly change the appearance of the facility once dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World." That sounds like a travesty to me, and I hope that part gets killed. If they want to put a giant parking garage on the north lot, west of Reliant Center and north of Reliant Stadium, that would be fine, but they should absolutely not block the profile of the Astrodome from the south and east.

I guess this also means they're not trying to hold on to the Astrodome for the 2016 Olympics bid. I agree with Tom, Anne, and the Rodeo guy quoted in the article: this plan really doesn't seem viable. $450 million for a 1,200 room hotel, when the Hilton Americas/GRB downtown is already struggling? (and would also get killed by this thing). I understand the Gaylord hotel concept, but those hotels have a resort setting with a golf course and a lake, neither of which are features of Reliant Park last time I checked. It just has white elephant written all over it.


At 11:12 PM, July 18, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is the Westheimer option out?

At 6:45 AM, July 19, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Yes. I think the traffic complications made that simply infeasible.

At 8:24 AM, July 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The comment that mega-public projects, especially tunnels, are rapidly losing credibility is in my view wrong. That's like if someone had said years ago that freeway construction is losing credibility because of the problems with the West Side Highway in Manhattan, or that bridge construction is losing credibility because of the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington State. It appears that the Big Dig example is a story about poor construction practices, unfortunately.

Tunnels will continue to play an important role in construction projects, from highways to subways to water supply and so forth. And mega-public projects of course will continue... for example, new levees for New Orleans.

At 1:49 PM, July 20, 2006, Blogger Adam said...


I thought every week was transportation week:)

I think you're probably right in general about vestigial effects of splitting road and rail funding. But in Houston's case, I think if Metro had had a block grant and been able to spend it however they wanted to,instead of having a big binary decision in front of them, we would have started building rail a while ago.

You're right on the big dig question, but I think people are a little reticent about 'big ideas' in general over the last couple of years. Don't you?


At 2:08 PM, July 20, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Agree if Metro had gotten the grant, but not if the state did. If HGAC got it, I'm not sure.

I don't know about "big ideas", but any big govt project - inc. infrastructure - yes. There have just been too many that have gone awry.


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