Monday, July 02, 2007

Concrete thinking by TxDOT leaves out commuter rail

Strange omission

Katy Freeway light-rail line will be necessary; failure to include it in a draft agreement makes no sense.

July 2, 2007

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

What comes first, the completed Katy Freeway with toll lanes or advance planning to make sure there's room for a light-rail line?

Judging by a draft operating agreement for the roadway that doesn't mention rail, precious little planning has gone into figuring out how commuter trains would fit into the scheme of things on the expanded westside freeway.

Rather than being an integral part of an overall transit plan for the corridor, rail, if it is built there, will be tacked on as an afterthought. That's a surefire formula for project delays and added construction expenses.

Metro has already contributed $10 million to strengthen the freeway's overpasses to support rail lines, an investment agency President and CEO Frank Wilson calls a downpayment for future rail. The proposed operating agreement between the Texas Department of Transportation, the Harris County Toll Road Authority and Metro calls for four toll lanes down the middle of the freeway, leaving no room for rail. That would mean rail lines would either consume existing traffic lanes or be built on frontage roads.

Metro officials asked their TxDOT counterparts to include a rail option in the agreement, but got the rather mystifying response that once the train lines were built the agreement could be amended. If this is an indication of how the transit agencies will coordinate rail on the freeway, it will make the chaotic construction of the downtown light rail seem like a masterpiece of planning.

Unless we are to continue widening freeways indefinitely, commuter rail eventually must be a part of major transit corridors in Houston. The Katy Freeway is a logical choice for such a line and should have a high priority. It is distressing that key transit agencies aren't planning for it before setting their projects in concrete.

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