Light Rail: Not a Light Decision

Residents who want to weigh in on METRO's proposed light rail University Corridor have only a few days left to do so. The public comment period closes on Monday. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, it's nearly decision time for exactly where the new line will go.

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The approximately 10-mile University Corridor is METRO's next phase for light rail. METRO Spokesperson Sandra Salazar says there were 50 possible alignments and the agency has narrowed it down to six potential routes -- three on the east side of Main Street and three on the west.

"Staff and consultants determined that these are the ones that have the best possibility in terms of ridership, in terms of cost and in terms of environmental impacts."

While METRO won't say which specific alignment they're focused on, it does appear that one route is surfacing as the most likely option. Robin Holzer chairs the board of the Citizens' Transportation Coalition, a grassroots advocacy group. She says METRO's analysis shows that east of Main St. the Wheeler/Ennis/Elgin alignment would serve the most people and connect the Third Ward and East End to other parts of the city. West of Main St. is more of a puzzle.

"The METRO line has to connect Wheeler Station and has to get to the Hillcroft Transit Center which is on Westpark. And the question that METRO's been trying to answer for the last year of study is how far do you stay on Richmond before you move over to Westpark."

Holzer's group supports a route that would run down Richmond through Greenway Plaza and cut over to Westpark via one of the smaller side streets such as Cummins. But not everyone is thrilled about light rail on Richmond. Wes Mikulich is founder of a small but determined group called RailonWestheimer.org. He says Westheimer is the better route, but it was never fully considered as a viable option.

"Even if you're pro- or anti-rail what we can all agree on is the fact that it's going to be very difficult to get this project done. And there's going to be an impact regardless of what route is chosen. So all we're asking is that we take a serious look at Westheimer in order to understand those impacts and compare them with what the impacts of the alternatives are."

Mikulich says he realizes METRO has already ruled out Westheimer, but says that was a mistake and that's why the public comment period is so important - so residents can influence the decisions made. And whatever the decision is, it's coming soon. Monday marks the end of public input for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. And METRO board members are likely to select a preferred route by the end of October. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...