Light Rail on Track in Houston

by Steve Parker

This morning I had the privilege to be present at the first concrete pour of the Southeast light rail line. For the first time in nearly ten years, actual rails are being laid in Houston. The existing rail line on Main Street, the Redline, opened in January 2004. Just three months earlier, voters approved an extension to the Redline along with four new light rail lines. The preliminary construction, including utility work and right-of-way acquisition, began in 2008 after the specific routes were selected and the environmental impact studies were conducted.

The earliest work will begin with the East End Line on Harrisburg Boulevard. Within a couple of months all road work will be complete from its start at the Bastrop Station, the front door of the new Houston Dynamo soccer stadium, to the Altic Station and the new Service and Inspection facility. The Southeast Line will run from the Theater District, downtown, to Palm Center on Griggs Road. The first rail being laid runs from the Bastrop Station, along a portion of the Columbia Tap Hike and Bike Trail, to near Scott Street, due the limited traffic and roadway interference.  All of the roadwork, and most likely  the rail construction in the East Downtown (EADO) area around the new Dynamo Stadium will be completed in before the stadium’s  opening in early May 2012.

The East End and Southeast Lines also benefit from improvements suggested from the community. The East End Line recently was approved for an underpass which will allow for commercial development on either side of the underpass. Another  improvement presented to the METRO Board by the Citizen’s Transportation Coalition, was the “squiggle.” The area just west of the Dynamo stadium where the rail connects from Texas Avenue to Capitol Street is a  confusing crossing of one-way vehicular traffic, two directions of rail traffic, and heavy pedestrian crossing. The “squiggle” creates a path that makes sense for all modes of traffic was approved at the last METRO Board meeting.

As a civic leader in Houston’s East End, I have been active in a lot of the preliminary activities since before the 2003 vote. I serve on the Community Advisory Boards for both the East End and South East lines, as well as being involved in the Greater East End Management District’s Strategic Vision Plan and the East End Chamber of Commerce. In the East End, the extensive community involvement in vision plans for our area and the entire region helped guide our decisions and passion for how the rail line could best serve the residents, businesses, and visitors.

The North, South East, and East End rail lines are being built (in operation early 2014) at a time when Houston is being recognized for its green building, sense of place development, cost of living, job creation and several other categories. That along with the July jobs report showing hiring in the construction sector on the increase, this looks to be a promising time for the construction industry in Houston.

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