Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Freeze the East End line!, real higher-ed success, WSJ on Ashby, and more

Last week the METRO board decided to move forward with a controversial overpass plan to extend the East End line to the Magnolia Park Transit Center at an additional cost of $27-$43 million and 3 years, not to mention the tens of millions more to continue extending the line.  My question is this: why not just freeze the end of the East End line where it is, move the Transit Center to that point as part of the bus system redesign they're currently undergoing, and save the $100m+ to apply to much higher priority University Line, which is stuck in budget limbo.  The board gets to back away from an overpass that the community hates and move forward on a much higher priority project for the city - win-win.  And down the road, they can revisit it if they want to extend the line and the budget money becomes available.  It makes total logical sense, which is why, sadly, I'm guessing it won't get much play in a political bureaucracy like METRO which will just heads-down bull-ahead on the existing plan, as outdated, unpopular, and wasteful as it is.

UPDATE: I have to rescind this recommendation after discovering that METRO has already built the East End line beyond the proposed bridge, which just seems crazy to me.  We will now have a dead segment of rail (including stops) that will sit for 3 years while a bridge is constructed.  Wow... just... wow.

Continuing with some smaller items this week:
Finally, I want to end with this *must-watch* 9-minute video on educational success in the new economy, with a very strong case that we're sending way too many young people to 4-year universities vs. the job availability, while sending too few for technical certifications that are in high-demand and are highly-paid while requiring far less debt.  One of the numbers that really jumped out at me was that for every one job requiring a professional graduate degree, two will require a bachelors and seven will require a simple technical certification - yet for some reason we are pressing every kid to go to a four-year school where they often take far longer than that to get a degree (if they graduate at all) and end up underemployed with six-figure debts.  Why do we think this make sense?

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At 9:47 AM, May 28, 2014, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On Houston overtaking Chicago in metro/city population, it COULD happen sooner depending on changes in growth rates. No one would've expected Los Angeles to overtake Chicago in metro population even right after WWII, but thanks to a sudden surge in LA (and California's) population growth rates, it happened by 1960. Something, such as a major economic realignment, could very well happen over the next 10 or 20 years to allow that.

At 10:16 AM, May 28, 2014, Anonymous awp said...

They have already completed the line past the overpass. Everyone falls for the sunk cost fallacy, but politicians and bureaucrats fall for it the hardest. Could you really imagine them admitting their incompetence in such a manner, after already spending 10s of millions on the end of the line?

At 10:27 AM, May 28, 2014, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Wow. Really?! They built the rail on the other side and now there's a three year delay on the connection? I didn't think they could possibly make that big of a mistake. I assumed they were just extending it east linearly. I guess I have to rescind my freeze recommendation, but... wow.

At 10:41 AM, May 28, 2014, Anonymous Northsider said...

In addition to awp's comment. I believe Metro's longer term plan for the East line is to have it turn down Broadway and head straight to Hobby airport which offers a more direct route than the SE line could. It is still beyond me that getting one of the lines to Hobby wasn't in the immediate plan.

At 10:52 AM, May 28, 2014, Anonymous ssn said...

in terms of college education, here is another article from fivethirtyeight which also explores the topic from a different angle of graduating college vs. going to college:


..I found it an interesting read.

At 11:59 AM, May 28, 2014, Anonymous awp said...


Surprised you didn't know that, but it is up on Google maps now. It appears to be missing a 4-6 block section at the tracks then the last ~5 blocks have been completed.
How much are these last stops on the line worth. Who in the world thought it was worthwhile to build this bridge/underpass just to get one more station right now*? They did the same on the North line too. A ridiculously long expensive bridge and what appears to be more than a mile of street track just to get that last stop at HCC.
*taking into consideration Northsider's beliefs, the bridges might make sense when the lines are being stretched to the airports. But right now? Just for one more stop?
**Also, I believe the way the federal system funds the new starts encourages excessive capital expenditure, and each city tries to get that money while the getting is good.

At 1:49 PM, May 28, 2014, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

The reason it is not going to Hobby now is the objections of United. They want either both airports connected or neither - they don't want SWA to have an advantage at Hobby.

awp: the east end line is all Metro - no fed $ - so that's why I thought there might be a chance of ending it short. If there was fed money they'd be stuck. Total agreement - huge waste of $ for one more stop.

Thanks for the link, SSN. Definitely interesting.

At 3:09 PM, May 28, 2014, Anonymous jc said...

Transit to airports is a naive fantasy. In reality, it underperforms routes with consistent commuting. I would much rather my transit money spent helping ease Houstonian's lives (shopping, commuting needs) and not their travels. Also the university line is dead for many political reasons. A lack of funds is not the concern. Once Culberson loses his seat, the money should magically become available.

At 6:18 PM, May 28, 2014, Anonymous awp said...

I don't see why you rescind your recommendation. If the last station wasn't worth 100mil before, it is still not worth 100mil. Sunk cost fallacy and what not. Or, did you think the cost was the bridge plus the last leg?
The reason I knew about the last leg was because I drove it the other day after hearing about the bridge controversy. When I saw that the last leg was already constructed I had the same reaction as you.
Why did (if it did) building the last leg before the bridge make sense? The carrying cost on 20 million(or however much) for three years is quite a bit of money.

At 6:36 PM, May 28, 2014, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Yeah, my $100m savings estimate was based on not building the rail past the bridge. With it already built, they pretty much have to connect it. I agree it was a really bad decision on their part.

At 6:01 PM, May 30, 2014, Anonymous Rich Robins said...

Looks like Tory attended Metro's open house meeting this week, for commenting on the proposed bus line modifications:


Tory, is there an advantage to showing up in person instead of submitting feedback to Metro online? To my knowledge, none of the locations are held at a rail-accessible locale. Ironic, huh?

At 6:06 PM, May 30, 2014, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Ha! Caught me in the picture, eh? It was interesting, but everything in the public sessions is also available online - there's no advantage to going in-person unless you want to ask questions. That is a good point that none of the public information sessions are along the rail line!


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