Route 88.7 Blog: Update On Houston's Latest Loop, and New Amenities for Rail Riders
by: Gail Delaughter, October 19, 2012 12:10:00 pm
What's Next for the Grand Parkway
TxDOT is moving ahead with the latest segments of the Grand Parkway, an ambitious project to build a 170-mile loop around the Greater Houston area. Officials hope that by 2015, you'll be able to drive the west side of the parkway without hitting a red light.
The Grand Parkway started showing up on maps as early as 1962. Twenty-two years later, the Grand Parkway Association was formed as a nonprofit corporation to oversee the roadway's development. Executive Director David Gornet says in light of the growing population north of Houston, it's crucial for the project to move forward: "The city, as we go from 4 million to 6 million to 8 million, or who knows what will happen here in the future, we need to plan for our transportation needs."
Officials say the parkway will provide better connectivity for people in the fast-growing suburbs north of Houston as they travel between major arteries such as U.S. 290, I-45, and U.S. 59.
Gornet says the Grand Parkway was envisioned as a public-private partnership: "Part of the vision for that creation was that the association could work with private property owners, local governments, cities and counties, as well as with the state, to take advantage of opportunities that would be to the benefit of everyone involved." Segment D, for example, was built largely with donated rights-of-way. Funds were also donated for engineering work.
The Grand Parkway is divided into 11 sections, but only two sections are open right now. Segment D, which runs from I-10 south to U.S. 59, opened in 1994. Fort Bend County is currently building overpasses on the segment north of Sugar Land. Also open is Section I-2, a toll road that runs south from I-10 to Baytown. It opened in 2008.
Currently under construction is Segment E, which runs from I-10 north to U.S. 290.
As for what gets built next, TxDOT hopes to start construction early next year on segments F1, F2, and G. That's the northwest section of the parkway running from 290 to I-45. The price tag for that 37-mile stretch stands at over one billion dollars, and Gornet says TxDOT is making arrangements for the sale of toll bonds to pay for the work: "The bonds we anticipate will be 30 year term. The interest rate should be very low, somewhere less than 4 percent on those."
Gornet says those segments will be constructed using what's known as a "design-build" concept. That's when the contractor does the actual design work along with construction. The contractor will also acquire rights-of-way on TxDOT's behalf.
The Grand Parkway project hasn't come without controversy. Some of the work on Segment E is on hold because of the recent discovery of prehistoric artifacts and remains. The project has also been the subject of a lawsuit from the Sierra Club because of concerns over storm runoff and how it would affect the nearby Addicks and Barker dams.
Metro is Getting New Light Rail Cars
In other transportation news this week, Metro unveiled the newest member of its light rail fleet. It's the first of 19 new cars that will go into service on the Main Street line. The new cars will also eventually be used on the three other lines currently under construction.
Metro purchased 18 cars when the light rail line started up nine years ago, but Metro Chairman Gilbert Garcia says they've come to the point where they need more. He says riders have complained it's often too crowded to get on the train during peak hours, especially in the Medical Center.
The price tag for the 19 new cars stands at $83 million, and that includes spare parts, manuals, and training. Metro CEO George Greanias says the cars were obtained from manufacturer Siemens after the Utah Transit Authority ordered more units than it needed.
So how are the new cars different from the old ones? Greanias says they mark a step forward in passenger safety and comfort.
One thing riders will notice is that the seats at the end of the car face the door, and not forward. Greanias says that will give passengers a greater sense of security. If you have to stand, there are more places to hold on, including a three-sectioned pole. There are also amenities for bike riders with two racks aboard each car.
Metro's newest rail car has to go through a certain amount of test miles before it can start carrying passengers. It's expected to go into service early next year.
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