Two Views on Rail in Southeast

Along Martin Luther King BLVD in southeast Houston, large holes and orange cones mark construction on the southeast light rail line. But some residents are still fighting METRO over that line — and others are happy to see it come. From the KUHF NewsLab, Melissa Galvez has more.
Over 30 years ago, Ovide Duncantall promised Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s father that he would erect a statue to his son on MLK Blvd. In the meantime, he planted a tree. Now, Duncantell is determined to stop METRO's Southeast Light Rail Line from possibly cutting right through that tree.

"Unless they get by the tree, they can't continue. We're going to protect the tree. That's sacred to us. That's our icon."


"My concerns about rail being on MLK are centered around our children…"


Dee Simon has organized meetings, handed out petitions, and pored over environmental impact reports the size of telephone books. She fears that METRO will use eminent domain to take over residents' homes, claims that ridership isn't there, and is especially concerned that METRO changed the alignment from what was voted on in the 2003 referendum. But first and foremost, she thinking about the safety of children.

"At grade level light rail does not need to run in front of elementary aged children. There is going to be an accident. You know children, they don't know their own mortality."

Since light rail began six years ago, there have been 27 accidents along the whole route involving pedestrians, bicyclists, or wheelchairs. Kim Williams, the Chief Administrative Officer for METRO Solutions, says that on the Southeast Line, the agency worked with local schools on traffic patterns.

"We also put an educational program in the schools to educate the students and the parents, as well as the administration, about what life is like interacting with the train. I think some people have a vision of a large freight train coming down the street, and that's not at all what a light rail vehicle is."

Williams also says that METRO has no plans to take residents' homes, and that the MLK line was actually recommended by local civic groups.

"It's dead right now. So if the light rail comes through, I think it will be a better look for the community."

John Brown — nickname Joe Black — owns a barbershop on MLK Blvd. He and his other barber say they plan to use light rail to get to downtown. Rev. Aswad Walker, of the Shrine of the Black Madonna Church, thinks that rail will bring economic development to the neighborhood-and that civic leaders can help direct it to the community's needs.

"But I think METRO has done a really good job of keeping businesses, individuals, churches, etc, informed about what's been going on, and not only informed, but open to the ideas of the community."


METRO says that the alignment of the Southeast line is a done deal. But Ovide Duncantell, Dee Simon, and Simon's group, Corridors United, vow to keep pressing METRO and the city-through petitions, even a lawsuit if necessary. Duncantell has even vowed to give up his life before he allows rail to cut down Dr. King's tree.

From the KUHF NewsLab, I'm Melissa Galvez.