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Transportation

Major Decision Expected On East End Light Rail Project

Business owners say construction delays have taken a toll.

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Metro’s board is expected to decide Thursday how it will proceed on a major issue that’s holding up completion of the East End light rail line. Meanwhile neighbors say they’re anxious for a resolution after months of street detours and construction headaches.

We caught up with some of those neighbors at the East End’s Magnolia Transit Center. Across the street on Harrisburg, a brand new light rail station sits idle and it won’t go into operation anytime soon.

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The new East End light rail line is set to open this fall, but trains will only go as far as Altic Street.  That’s because Metro is still trying to figure out how to get the train over the busy freight rail crossing at Hughes Street, a few blocks to the west.

Richard Villarreal says the delays are frustrating for transit riders like himself.

“You’ve got the impression that the rail system is okay but it’s not okay because you’ve got that major issue of the overpass.”

When the East End line was first designed Metro proposed an overpass at Hughes Street, but after neighborhood outcry they  decided instead to build an underpass. A few months ago, neighbors were surprised to learn that Metro was again considering an overpass because of worries over soil contamination.

And that could tack at least another couple of years onto the project. Villarreal says East End residents can only sit and wait.

“Like I said, the word that I can use is, it’s an embarrassment. It’s really like a black eye. You’re trying to promote it and you can’t do anything because you’ve got that overpass. That should have never, never happened.” 

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The East End line is a little over three miles long, and people who live and work along Harrisburg have been dodging construction since 2009.

Diane Schenke with the Greater East End Management District says the work has taken a toll on local businesses and they’re anxious to see the project finished.

“We know there’s just been a huge amount of cars just avoiding Harrisburg because of the construction. People are taking alternate  routes and not even dealing with the construction on Harrisburg.”

Metro heard about those construction headaches during a series of stakeholder meetings. The board is now scheduled to vote on how to proceed with the rail crossing project.

Schenke says there needs to be a resolution soon.

“Indecision is very expensive for the businesses and I’m not sure Metro is learning any more at this point so I’m glad they’re going to make a decision and move forward.”

As of right now Metro doesn’t have a design for an overpass, but officials say if the project goes forward, they want to keep a couple of lanes of vehicular traffic at grade level to provide easy access to businesses. They also have to figure out how much an overpass would cost.

The project budget for the East End line is $587 million. It’s funded entirely with local sales tax revenues.

 

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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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