While METRO light rail is enjoyed by many inner city Houstonians, suburb cities are also looking at linking up with METRO's rail lines --enter Montgomery County, far north of Houston. It's has historically grown at about a six percent rate for the last 15 years. County leaders expect that trend to continue, and congestion along with it.
Montgomery County Judge Alan Sadler said, "So I think it's critical to get rail up to Montgomery County to address these congestion issues."
Judge Sadler has only begun to have preliminary discussions with METRO. As they look for an exact route, paralleling I-45, they say, would make sense. Only 50 feet of right of way would be needed and much more than that currently exists in the middle of most sections of the North Freeway. Also, not all of the areas that would be covered by commuter rail are inside METRO's service area.
"So a line that would run up to Montgomery County, perhaps up 45, would be something that we would want to support," said METRO President George Greanias. "We would be glad to give any assistance that we could and we want to make sure that, that line connected well with METRO's service area, especially as those line come into the downtown area."
County Judge Sadler concedes that a major hurdle will be financing. But he plans requests for federal funding, noting that the Houston region historically has lacked financial support for mass transit.
"If you look at the total funding for this area, we are way behind the curve on funding for rapid transit, in the form of rail for this area," Judge Sadler said.
METRO leaders say interest in mass transit lines shows perceptions in Texas are changing.
"I think there is a much broader realization that mobility in the Houston region is more than streets and roads," Greanias said.
The idea is catching on. Galveston County is already researching the cost of corridors for a rail line as well. However, Montgomery County Judge Sadler says the best-case scenario will be having commuter rail on the ground there in five to eight years.