Transportation

Decision Could Come Soon On East End Light Rail Changes

Metro to decide the fate of major project, crucial to completing one light rail line.

Hughes Street freight rail crossin
Metro says contaminated soil could prevent them from building an underpass at the Hughes Street freight rail crossing.

Metro officials will soon decide the fate of a major project that’s crucial to completing one of Houston’s new light rail lines.

Metro had planned to build an underpass that would take the Harrisburg light rail line under the freight rail tracks at Hughes Street.

The original plan was to build an overpass, but Metro decided to go with an underpass after neighbors expressed concern that an overpass would block access to businesses and split the historic neighborhood in two.

But now there are worries about contaminated soil, so Metro is once again floating the idea of an overpass, just not as big as originally planned.

Some people in the neighborhood say they’re just ready for the project to be done.

“I truly believe at this point that we really have to consider who uses that transit system and what is best for them.”

Longtime East End resident Yolanda Black Navarro says it’s working people who suffer as the project drags on.

“That area, people do not have a lot of cars and they need their transit system because they not only have one job, but they have two and three. They have to go downtown to clean offices, they have to go from one side, to southwest Houston perhaps.”

Until Metro determines how the light rail will cross the freight rail tracks, the trains won’t be able to go all the way to the Magnolia Transit Center.

When the line opens this fall it will only go from downtown to Altic Street. Navarro says the seemingly never-ending construction has taken its toll on local businesses.

“I have seen businesses close. I have seen those poor business people not be able to make it. They’ve had to close down. They’ve had the hope and aspiration that things would change. They’ve lost not thousands but hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Close to 30 Harrisburg businesses have signed a letter in support of the overpass project, though some civic clubs have told Metro they want more time to study the issue.

Metro Chairman Gilbert Garcia says they plan to have another stakeholder meeting May 6 and they expect to make a final decision at a board meeting May 22. Garcia says it’s his hope the rail line is opened to the transit center in the next two years.

“We’re going to go on warp speed because we’ve got to find a way. The timetables that were put out, those are reasonable, but we’ve got to find a way to go faster, regardless of the outcome of over-under. We’ve got to go faster and get this thing built.”

But Metro still has to design the overpass and figure out how much it will cost.

Metro sales tax money is paying for the East End line. The other new lines are funded with federal money.

Cesar Chavez Street
A station has already been built at Cesar Chavez Street, but it’s not yet connected to the rest of the Harrisburg light rail line.

 

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Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

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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