METRO Light Rail Expansion

METRO is poised to take the first steps in the light rail expansion plan. The Metro board voted to approve contracts to five engineering companies to begin the conceptual and preliminary design of five new light rail corridors. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson has more.

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It's been nearly three years since voters approved the referendum to expand METRO light rail into five additional corridors. During that time, not much has happened with the actual project and voters have grown increasingly impatient and concerned over the lack of information. John Sedlak is the executive vice president of METRO and says up until this time they haven't had the background information necessary to move forward with the METRO Solutions plan.

"Until we can conduct some of this further conceptual engineering and preliminary engineering and environmental work, we really can't answer the questions with the kind of specific answers the community is looking for. So this will allow us to gather the data, gather the engineering information, really get to a point where decision-making can take place."

Five engineering firms were awarded contracts for a total of $40 million for the design development of the North Line, Southeast Line, Harrisburg Line, Uptown Line and University Line. Several communities have expressed concerns over the placement of the University line. When voters approved the referendum, the University Line was described as running along Westpark, but METRO is also looking at an alignment along Richmond Ave. Robin Holzer is the chair of the Citizens' Transportation Coalition.

"What we've been doing a really good job of is identifying concerns that a lot of people who care about neighborhoods and care about their homes and businesses have come out and raised really serious issues. They're talking about how do we deal with flooding, how much right of way do we need, what happens to trees, what happens to neighborhood access, how do we handle left turn issues on the traffic. And a lot of people are speculating about what the answers are, but there aren't any answers yet."

The answers should start coming in as little as two months. Preliminary engineering will begin in May and METRO expects to have some data within 30 days after that. Sedlak says it will take less than a year for some lines to be designed and closer to a year and a half for the University Line.

"I can attest to you that no decisions have been made, particularly in a corridor like the University corridor. Now the other corridors, some decisions have been made relative to location of street because the North corridor and the Southeast corridor are much further advanced. But as we now look at University corridor, we look at the Harrisburg corridor, the Uptown corridor, now we'll be able to gain the information, take that data forward, provide it to the public and only then would a decision be made."

This is the first step in proceeding to METRO's hybrid delivery which is a design/build process where the engineers doing work now will be engaged in final design and construction that will go on simultaneously. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

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