Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Off the Line in Houston

Houston has been studying constructing a commuter line down the 249 corridor but if it plays out as usual, it's going to skip a number of employment centers because the freight right of way just skirts them.  Currently the study done by the HGAC states that its not one of the main corridors and that ridership will only be about 5,000 riders.  This is a miniscule amount but the reasoning is simple, it doesn't connect the center of the most important trip destination on the North End, the former headquarters of Compaq computer.


Since these buildings are going to be the central piece of a redevelopment strategy for the area, it would also be good to start thinking about how to develop the rail line to connect this place.  

But how would that even be possible?  They are so close yet so far apart.  This is part of the problem with focusing on commuter rail in existing freight rights of way.  In this instance, is a freeway alignment better than the freight?  It sure looks like it, because it then becomes at least a little walkable, meaning more workers would use the line.  I'm not holding out hope that this will actually happen though.  


Christof Spieler said...

The timing of this is apt-- we just held a METRO public meeting at the Lone Star College campus in those buildings last night. 249 is one of the few radial freeway corridors in Houston that does not have an HOV lane, and of Houston's radial corridors is has the least direct connection to Downtown (because the freeway stops at beltway 8.) Thus, existing transit service isn't very good, despite a major population base and some significant employment and educational institutions.

On one hand, the lack of an existing transit infrastructure and the availability of an existing rail line means that commuer rail may make sense here. BNSF has been open to sharing these tracks, and in fact TxDOT is considering them for medium-speed rail to Dallas, which could definitely complement commuter rail.

On the other hand, the major destinations are, as you note, lined up along the freeway. So maybe an HOV with BRT service -- with a connection to I-45 or 290 for a link to Downtown -- makes more sense.

This is case in point for why planning shouldn't start by presuming a mode but rather start by defining a travel need and then seeing what modes and alignments might serve that need.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

I agree Christof. I hadn't heard of the medium speed Dallas line. Is that a part of the grant for planning that Texas got from the HSR money?

BruceMcF said...

Note that 249 overpasses the freight line, so it is plausible that it could start on the freight line and then shift over to an expressway alignment.

Christof Spieler said...

Yes-- that's the planning grant. I say medium speed rail since some of the alignments being considered won't allow what I'd call high speed (125+) but could allow 110 mph.

Anonymous said...

Build some thing S-Bahn like and it could still be used some time by freight trains.