In Ripley House, a community center in Houston's East End, a packed room of residents and city officials applauded some good transit news announced by Mayor Annise Parker.
"There's been a series of community meetings and work to create a consensus around, whether we took everything over or everything under. And I'm here today to announce that we've finalized the plan with METRO to take everything under."
Mayor Parker was talking about the construction of the East End Light-Rail line. Over three years ago, METRO proposed building a 3.3 mile extension of the Main Street Line running from Downtown to Magnolia Transit Center along Harrisburg Boulevard. It would be a grade separation for light rail and cars, meaning cars can cross safely in front of the trains. Originally, METRO discussed taking the line over Harrisburg Boulevard. Residents and business owners, however, disagreed. Strongly! Julio del Carpio is one business owner who was top of the list to strike that plan down.
"Without the underpass, I would basically have to sell my business and move to another place. We would have lost at least 30-40 businesses in the area."
METRO will confirm construction of the underpass at their board meeting tomorrow. But for now, the initial proposal that the Rail Line will go under was welcomed with open arms by all, including Mr. del Carpio.
"We are so happy, we have been fighting for 3 and a half, four years in order to make the underpass happen."
Mayor Parker also spoke about redirecting some funds from local drainage and construction projects to contribute nearly $21 million dollars, and this is critical to METRO's plan to build this section of the rail. METRO CEO George Greanias joked about always paying the bill, but in all honesty welcomed this partnership.
"Having been president now for a year and a couple of months I found that anytime you start talking about projects and METRO, I always end up, like having dinner with my kids, I'm always left with picking the check up. What's nice about this event today is that the Mayor is helping to split the tab."
METRO will provide the other $23 million to begin the $43 million dollar project. It will likely take two years longer and will begin in 18-24 months. The completion date looks like 2016, but none of that mattered to the residents of Houston's East End as they celebrated finally getting what they wanted.