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East End Rail Route Back on Track

After a weekend meeting of the minds, it appears Metro’s plan to connect its planned East End light rail line with a key transit center is back on track. Houston Public Radio’s Jack Williams reports.

The plan had been stalled because Metro and Union Pacific couldn’t agree
to 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 major
transit 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 Freight
Rail District agreed to take the lead in organizing all the governmental
agencies.”

Mark Ellis is chairman of the Gulf Coast Freight Rail District and says
a grade separation could cost upwards of $20 million.

“It’s my understanding that Metro is committed to 25-percent of the cost
of 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 city
and 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 use
the 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 to
do 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 Center
and 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.

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