Possible change to METRO's east line could ease congestion

July 26, 2011 4:39:38 PM PDT
There's a possible change for METRO's east-side rail line, and it could relieve some predicted traffic congestion. The city is asking for an underpass for the rail line. It would go in at Harrisburg and Hughes.

But is it too costly for METRO?

Construction on east end has been underway on a tight budget, which meant that a rail-crossing upgrade was pretty much out of reach. But on Tuesday, the city of Houston intervened with capital improvement dollars in hand.

The railroad crossing on Harrisburg and Hughes has been a line in the sand between those who've pushed for a rail in the east end and METRO. The plan was to build an overpass there, but on Tuesday, at the city's urging, the plan's have started to change.

"In the long run, this is the best project for the neighborhood, the best project for the city and it is something that we can do for the safety of our families and our kids," Houston Mayor Annise Parker said.

The city is chipping in $20.6 million toward an underpass. The money comes from the delay of two capital improvement projects on Telephone Road and Fulton, but the cost to change the rail's plan is $23 million. METRO will ask the railroads, the county and the local tax district to help make up the difference.

"This is an example that METRO can change, it can become a trusted community partner, it can listen and it can do that and still deliver the transit services this community needs," METRO CEO George Greanias said.

It's a cleaner look, but for those who live in the east end, it's more than that. An overpass, they say, would have divided the street and the neighborhood.

"It would've split the community in half. Going through the heart of a community, that would have been a horrible structure," said Marilu de la Fuente with the Harrisburg Historical Association.

Even so, there's some caution being voiced, not about the commuter rail, but the underpass.

"It's very well known that the underpasses flood and people drown," Harrisburg homeowner Jessica Halsey said.

The METRO board will vote on the change this week, and a committee has recommended its approval.

For a lot of people there, it shows that folks can take on City Hall or METRO and sometimes they win.

Assuming the change is approved at the METRO board meeting, construction would continue on the main rail line. It wouldn't be complete on that underpass until 2016.


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