Houston's longest bus rapid transit project was put on hold Thursday after METRO's Board of Directors decided to delay a vote on whether to approve it. Many East End residents are concerned about a concrete overpass going through their neighborhood.
The University Corridor project that’s expected to stretch 25 miles across the City of Houston creating a rapid transit from the Westchase Park & Ride near the intersection of the Westpark Tollway and the Sam Houston Tollway, and end at the Tidwell Transit Center, near the intersection of Tidwell Road and U.S. Highway 59. The route would also make stops at Houston Community College, Texas Southern University, the University of Houston, and the University of St. Thomas.
"The board will not take action today on this item," said METRO's board chair, Sunjay Ramabhadran. "We anticipate bringing this item back to the board for consideration for a vote in the next week or two weeks."
Ramabhadran said the delay allows for more interaction between the board and community members.
"Our commitment as you see is to do as many community engagement meetings and to explain things to the extent needed to the community," he said.
Residents in the East End community oppose METRO's decision to build a concrete overpass on Lockwood Drive because they said it will divide the historic neighborhood and there hasn’t been enough community engagement.
The $1.56 Billion project is part of the METRONext Moving Forward Plan to reduce travel time and create a more reliable schedule. The overpass is being created on Lockwood starting from McKinney Street to Canal Street to allow for buses to travel through without being delayed by trains that continuously stop on the tracks.
"I shared my concerns about segment 4 and more specifically how METRO would cross the very active UP own railroad tracks near Harrisburg," said District I Council Member Robert Gallegos, who's been advocating with residents on the issue. "I mentioned to you then that I would not support any proposal that would negatively impact the Eastwood neighborhood."
Gallegos hosted a community meeting Tuesday night with over 150 residents who were disappointed in the overpass and the lack of transparency from the board. The delayed vote was also supported by elected officials. A statement from Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia's office stated she was contacted by numerous East End residents not only about the overpass, but the project’s materials sent to residents homes were only in English, in a majority Hispanic Community.
"I believe METRO does owe it to the residents of East End to build consensus," said Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia. "Help them understand why Lockwood was chosen over any other option.
Garcia said the I-45 project is an example of what impacts the overpass could have on communities.
"Overpasses tend to be divisive, tend to separate communities further, and historically black and brown communities have already had too much of that," he said.
Transit officials said the design project is only 30% completed which could take several years to design a finalized plan – which allows for more community discussion as the transit develops.
Danielle Laperrie is the President of the Eastwood Civic Association and said she hopes the board takes the time to listen to residents’ concerns.
"So I asked that the work that happens between now and when you do vote on this happens so you can restore the opportunity for community pride," she said.
Laperriere said no one is against the project, they just want to make sure the community will not be impacted along the way.
"This project will improve mobility, it puts much needed funding into historically disadvantaged areas for improved drainage, road maintenance, greenspaces, and gives Houstonians options for transportation," she said.
This is not the first time METRO and the East End community disputed over an overpass. In 2014, METRO decided to build an underpass for the East End Light Rail instead of an overpass to take the Harrisburg Light Rail under the freight rail tracks on Hughes Street. In 2016, the Hughes Street overpass faced delays as well, and Laperriere said it's a hassle since the overpass was constructed.
"Over the next week or however long you have before a votes comes, I encourage every board member to go look at that area, and see what it's become under that overpass," she said.