The plan had been stalled because Metro and Union Pacific couldn't agreeto share the track crossing Harrisburg just a few blocks west of the Magnolia Transit Center. After a meeting on Friday brokered by Houston City Councilman James Rodriguez, the plan to extend the route is back. An expensive grade separation, with light rail going either over or under the freight rails, is now the likely end result.
"This whole Metro Solutions works if you're able to connect to a majortransit center, so going to the Magnolia Transit Center is key for the mobility in the area. We were able to get together and stress that the city does have some funds to commit to this. We'd like Metro to commit some funding and also the Freight Rail District. The FreightRail District agreed to take the lead in organizing all the governmentalagencies."
Mark Ellis is chairman of the Gulf Coast Freight Rail District and saysa grade separation could cost upwards of $20 million.
"It's my understanding that Metro is committed to 25-percent of the costof the grade separation at Harrisburg. The Mayor has committed to 50-percent. I suspect that UP will step-up and do their 5-percent. We still have a little bit of a gap, but we're trying to work with just about everybody in the region, Harris County, the Port, the railroads, the cityand Metro to see if we can't find the funding."
Without the grade separation, the East End line would have dropped-off passengers six blocks from the Magnolia Transit Center. It was a proposition that didn't sound good to residents in the area and others who planned to usethe line. Mayor Bill White says the latest progress is a good sign.
"This is all good news. There was a little bit of a hiccup, a hold-up, having todo with crossing Harrisburg at the same level as street, but we're going to take care of that with a new capital expenditure."
Metro's Sandra Aponte Salazar says it's too early for Metro to talk about specific costs, but does say the progress is encouraging.
"Metro is committed to taking this light rail line to the Magnolia Transit Centerand we've said it's not a question of if, but when. It's good to see this cooperation, absolutely."
Metro wants to eventually extend the East End light rail line to Gulfgate Center and beyond.