Sunday, May 07, 2023

Update for METRO's Inner Katy BRT plan

This week we have another excellent guest post from Oscar Slotboom.
In January Metro received a Categorical Exclusion (CATEX) determination for the Inner Katy Bus Rapid Transit project from the Federal Transit Administration. The document can be downloaded here.
A CATEX means that no additional environmental study is needed, meaning that neither a very extensive (multiple-year) environmental impact statement nor a less-extensive environmental assessment is needed. This is good news, saving both time and money, because it will allow the project to proceed to construction as soon as plans are ready which could be as soon as later this year (with project completion in 2027) according to the presentation at the March H-GAC meeting. The CATEX is somewhat surprising, since even the most minimal road projects such as adding two more lanes to Westpark in existing right-of-way in west Houston required an environmental assessment.
At the March H-GAC meeting (Item 11) it was reported that Metro and TxDOT have resolved the remaining design issues. The design will accommodate TxDOT's planned four managed lanes when TxDOT is able to proceed with the Inner Katy managed lanes. The updated video is posted on Metro's project page.
From the West Loop to Washington Avenue, the BRT will initially run in the center of the freeway. When TxDOT proceeds with the managed lanes, a separate structure will be built for the BRT on the south side of the Katy Freeway.
Metro added a station at Memorial Park. In August 2021 I blogged that data in Dallas suggests that a park station will have low ridership, but the good news is that only one new station was added on the Inner Katy section (excluding downtown), for a total of three stations which is an acceptable number to maintain a decent average speed.
From Studemont into downtown, option 2 is the selected design and the BRT will be entirely separate from the managed lanes, requiring a new structure on the south and west sides of the freeway. The CATEX document (page 28) reports that option 2 requires 3.41 acres of new right-of-way, with 0.75 acres specifically for option 2. I don't know the legal implications of the CATEX, but hopefully Metro can now proceed to acquire all the property it needs.
The CATEX (page 24) reports that option 2 will cost $565 million in 2021 dollars. However, construction cost increases have far exceeded the CPI since 2021, with the highway construction cost index up an alarming 48% since December 2021. An updated cost estimate was not provided at the March H-GAC meeting, but we can be sure the updated cost will be much higher than $565 million. The Metro representative said, "we hope to return for increased funding consistent with TPC policy".
As Tory recently mentioned, the cost of light rail in other cities has escalated out of control, reaching an average of $384 million per mile, so the four-mile-long elevated BRT should still be well below half the cost of a street-level light rail.
Estimated Ridership
Page 24 of the CATEX reports that "Preliminary estimates suggest that the projected 2045 daily passenger trips carried on the Inner Katy guideway would be 42,000, including 12,000 from Inner Katy BRT service and 30,000 from Regional Express and Express bus services." These numbers are ridiculously high, considering that all Metro Park & Ride services had ridership of 32,444 in the year before Covid and are currently 13,163. The Silver Line BRT has averaged around 850 weekday riders.
TxDOT's Inner Katy Managed Lanes
TxDOT is soliciting consultants to continue work on the Inner Katy managed lanes. This is good news, since it suggests the project could possibly proceed to construction in the 2020s. As Tory and I have mentioned, the Inner Katy managed lanes are the most critical link in a future managed lane network for Houston. It is unclear if a design option for the managed lanes has been selected.



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