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Transit Officials Hear Concerns Over Light Rail Changes

Metro is promising more discussion before making a final decision on a controversial project in Houston's East End.



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Leaders of East End civic groups gathered in Metro's boardroom to talk about a big issue that's holding up completion of the light rail line along Harrisburg. That's the freight rail crossing at Hughes Street, and how to get the light rail train over those busy tracks.

When the line was first proposed several years ago Metro wanted to build an overpass. Residents objected, so Metro then agreed to an underpass. It would be paid for with $20 million dollars from the city and individual council districts. But the transit agency now says it can't build that underpass because of concerns over ground contamination.

Those concerns have led East End residents like John Jacob to do their own research. Jacob is president of the Eastwood Civic Association and he's also a geoscientist. He questions whether that contamination would spread if Metro went ahead with the underpass.

"We know that the plume is there, we know it's going to migrate. Our initial investigation at least suggests that that migration may not be as far as what Metro thinks it is."

So why are they fighting so hard for the underpass? Jacob says residents don't want a structure that would hamper future development.

"What we are looking at is the urban integrity of Harrisburg. Harrisburg is the central spine of the East End."

But not everyone in the East End is worried about an overpass.

Mark Anthony Rodriquez operates a used car lot near Eastwood Park.

"A lot of people just want it over with. I mean, they're frustrated with having all the construction up and down there."

Rodriquez says he's ready for the light rail to be finished, and an overpass would be the quickest and most practical option.

"I've lost a lot of money because my car lot is on Harrisburg, and I've lost a lot of money for the past five years. If it wasn't for my second business, I would have had real hard times."

Metro chairman Gilbert Garcia says he's also anxious to complete the work. The portion of the line from downtown to Altic Street opens this fall, but they can't connect to the Magnolia Transit Center until they figure out a way over the tracks.

"I fully expect us to meet again sometime in the next three weeks or so, and out of respect for everything to give it a little more time, so we can make sure everyone has all the right information they need to come to a conclusion on their own."

Metro has presented several options for an overpass, but nothing's been designed yet, and there's no word on the final cost.

Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

News Anchor

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

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