Light Rail Expansion

Metro authorties are starting the first stage in the planning process for an expansion of the light rail system. Metro is looking at two possible routes for what is termed the University line. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson has more.

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Phase 2 of the METRO Light Rail plan includes five new corridors. The University line is the first in development. METRO is considering two options for the alignment, along Richmond Avenue or along U.S. 59 South to Westpark. Chris Seger with the Afton Oaks Civic Association says the Richmond alignment should not be an option.

"It's gonna destroy small businesses all up and down Richmond, just like it did on Main Street. Second it's gonna destroy Richmond as a boulevard for East/West vehicular traffic. And thirdly it's gonna take the trees that are so pretty on Richmond that you see that have been there 50 years. But more importantly, it's against the 2003 referendum that was passed which said the rail line was going down Westpark and which for -- I and a whole lot of other people voted for that."

The 2003 rail referendum did cite Westpark as the corridor for construction. But METRO officials say the referendum also requires they look into alternate routes and community input. Around 100 people showed up at the board meeting to protest the potential Richmond route. But numerous supporters of rail on Richmond also showed up. David Crossly is the president of the Gulf Coast Institute, an organization located off of Richmond. He says he would love to see light rail come into the area.

"Put it on Richmond so that it goes to the hearts of all of these centers; big ones like Greenway, big ones like Uptown, smaller ones like Montrose, to the universities. So the people aren't getting off the trains somewhere on the edge of a freeway in a parking lot with no place to go. Transit is about getting pedestrians into busy places."

Crossly says he believes light rail will actually promote business, rather than stifle it. He says people who don't have access to cars or other transportation will suddenly be able to visit the many shops, restaurants and museums along the route. But Seger says many of those small businesses won't be able to survive during the years of construction before the rail line opens.

"When they talk about bringing more revenue in, they're talking about bringing businesses in to replace the ones that failed. If you had a business or owned a development that failed, there wouldn't be anything good about that at all for you. The next guy coming along might do just fine. But you're gone, you failed."

Several people also asked the METRO board to consider every option and do what seems best for the city as a whole. METRO Chairman David Wolff told the speakers that no decision has been made and the organization seeks input from the neighborhoods affected by this, but there was clearly concern from both supporters and opponants of a Richmond line that METRO may not be forthcoming with information on the project. METRO starts the technical process of studying the routes this month. They expect to have a preliminary report available by October of this year and an environmental impact study in July of '07. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

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