Examining the Odds of a METRO Light Rail Connection to Hobby

Both Red- and Purple-Line connections to Hobby Airport made METRO’s latest shortlist of proposed projects around town. They’re indicated above by the blue segment which runs east from the Red Line’s current terminus at Fannin South and past a proposed spur that’d reach up to the Purple Line’s last stop at Palm Center Transit Center. Together with all the proposed bus route upgrades colored orange, they’d cost the agency about $3 billion to build.

That price tag is on the high end of what METRO expects to have in its budget for projects over the next 2 decades: somewhere between $1 billion and $2.8 billion, according to the Chronicle‘s Dug Begley. Planning for the worst case, the agency also released a plan B — which eschews all airport rail connections in the name of frugality:


Faster bus routes — featuring bus-only lanes and relocated stops — appear again in orange.

Both the A and B plans are subsets of a full and much more ambitious proposal dubbed METRONext, a draft of which went public in July. Its cost: $35 billion, more than 11 times the amount of METRO’s best-case budget. But hey, a transit agency can dream, right?

Included are 200 miles of two-way HOV lanes and 90 of bus-only rapid transit lanes.

Rail-wise: a Green Line connection would supplement the Red and Purple extensions out to Hobby. And a long northern addition would wind its way all the up to IAH:

A final version of the METRONext plan is scheduled to go public sometime in the middle of next year.

Maps: MetroNEXT

Transit Wishlist

17 Comment

  • Sweet mother Mary and her eight tiny reindeer. Metro can’t run an express bus line to IAH, but a Lionel set to Hobby will come close to covering operating expenses? Not even taking into account the inevitable 100% cost overruns, rail simply doesn’t work well. Rail’s average speed of 12 MPH is rather slower than I average on my bicycle, and is even slower than a well designed bus route. (Of which we now have a plethora.)

    I’m a heavy user of Metro. I love the bike racks(Good on ya, Christof!), but what’s the point of using Metro to get to ,e.g., the Continental Club for a buddy’s gig if I have to leave halfway into the second set, because Metro?

    Now y’all hush up. You making the baby Jesus cry.

  • Notice how Plan B (the barely credible one) calls for a very short dead-end segment of new light rail running down Chimney Rock to Bellaire? This would necessitate a huge number of intermodal transfers. Do you know what METRO uses as a benchmark for success? Ridership. Ridership is counted in terms of boardings. Do you know what transfers create? Boardings.
    Plan B is abortion and abortion is murder; therefore METRO should be handed down the death sentence. I’m only joking a little bit. (I’m pro-abortion. Also, Plan A is ridiculous.) I actually do think that the Texas legislature should dismantle METRO and craft a completely new charter with much better accountability and oversight and region-wide service and funding mechanisms. A reasonable direction for a regional transportation services agency is that it should expect to completely rid itself of its bus fleet and to scrap all existing rail-based transit within the next ten to twenty years and to develop a framework and additional infrastructure that facilitates, manages, and subsidizes privately-operated ridepooling services. None of this whatsoever should have anything to do with municipal borders because commuters do not stop at municipal borders.

  • I’m glad to see that it is at least in their planning. I won’t live to see it…but future Houstonians will. Does this put us 50 years behind Dallas?

  • I like the idea of the extending the Harrisburg “Green” Line to Hobby …. it is a simple and relatively direct extension and would finally make this line financially viable.

    I also like the idea of an extension to NW Mall IF the Houston-Dallas high speed train actually comes to fruition, however I would avoid paralleling I-10 and NW Station. There are never going to be enough riders along this stretch if I-10 that a route along Center Street wouldn’t server better and offer a much larger ridership potential (closer to the Washington Corridor and easier walking distances to a greater population density.) Instead of the tiny NW Station (which is basically a bus transfer station with little parking) make it a stop on the RBT going to NW Mall where a real transit center could be built.

    The rest of the proposed light rail system as presented is a pipe dream at this time, but I am glad to see that they have finally seen that placing light rail immediately adjacent to the freeways is a bad idea. The only line that wasn’t included, and that needs to reappear, is the politically sensitive University Line, Hopefully this time, Republicans will get behind matching funds for mass transit …. for DECADES all they have done is block Metro from receiving 90% federal matching money forcing the citizens of Harris County to pay their taxpayer dollars for 100% of the costs while the nation laughed. (see Tom Delay’s demands for rail service to Sugar Land before any matching funds would be approved and Culbertson’s actions over his concern for his voter “friends” that killed the University Line).

  • The stretch of light rail from Fannin South to Broadway runs through pretty much nothing but low-density single-family neighborhoods, which is not a formula for high ridership.
    Most people go to the airport a couple times per year. Most people go to work 250 times per year. If your transportation plan isn’t focused on connected job centers to population centers, your transportation plan isn’t serious.
    But what about arriving passengers? Hobby handles about 4M O&D passengers per year. Let’s say 10% of those people (a) or living or staying somewhere served by light rail, (b) won’t need a car during their stay, and (c) have the patience to ride light rail to/from the airport. At current fares, that’s $500,000 in annual revenue. At Metro’s historic construction cost, the line from Fannin South to Hobby (through low-density, single family neighborhoods) would cost around $900M. Even at ZERO operating costs, that’s a 0.06% return on investment. Add in operating costs, and it’s pretty certain to be a net loss. As to which is the better investment, it’s a close contest between building the Hobby light rail line and just lighting the money on fire.

  • This summer my family traveled to NYC from Hobby. We caught the 40 from our home in East End and took it right into Hobby Airport. A little unusual but doable. It was a less stressful than the usual frantic rush to the airport. And cost us less than $5. The technology already exists….

  • “As to which is the better investment, it’s a close contest between building the Hobby light rail line and just lighting the money on fire.”


  • As a next to never rail line rider, when I have been a rider on this system, it is painfully slow to get to and from. I would love to see a 21st century approach to moving people around in mass, but if it involves one more mile of on the street service, I would not cast any support. I took the train from the rodeo carnival to the Hermann/Rice stop to pick up our car — this 2-3 miles of distance took about 40 minutes. We stopped at every traffic light that didn’t happen to time up with the tracks, took a prolonged load time on each stop, and when we did move, tapped out at 35 miles per hour. Aggregate, a pedicab could have done better.

    Compare this to my recent trip to Seattle. Parts of the train underground, raised, alongside the freeway, and even on the street. Airport to the heart of downtown – 30 minutes. Back from downtown to Safeco field for Mariner’s game – 20 minutes.

    I am a local, this is my hometown, and this system is the 2nd most embarrassing failure of local government, a distant second place to selling the Summit to a church that doesn’t pay property taxes. Literally ANY other buyer would be paying significant property taxes now. Instead, we get religious tourism and have saved the Rennaissance Hotel investors on the weekends. Good job Houston.

    I feel like this city has shat the bed on this issue. Started in the 80s when we really should have done this (basic common sense says when the economy is down work on the infrastructure to support when things are good again) in droves. 35 years and 3 million more people later, we have top 5 American traffic issues, a poorly integrated rail line that goes so slowly I don’t even want to use it for Texans/Hermann Park/Museum/Astros/Rodeo events, and asphault patches on concrete streets.

    Just this weekend, I merged to north 45 from 610 loop north. I was HORRIFIED to see a stopped traffic along this curve until I realized the issue was the pothole on a federal interstate interchange was so deep it was requiring cars to pass it at nearly stopped speeds.

    Get it together Houston. We don’t have physical beauty, we don’t have plus weather, and we don’t have a nationally desirable coast line — what this means is we have to do more to fill in the gaps. If it’s 93 and humid out, it better be while visitors gaze at our easy to get around, well maintained, urbanized city. In some ways, Chicago needs to be our aspiration. It’s uninspired prairie land there, roughly 10.5 months of variable awful weather, but it’s packed with visitors all the time and people “love” Chicago. Why? Because the place spends on transportation, city beautification, and works with their limitations. They fix and/or hide their ugly well, we just don’t.

  • Michael Bludworth- You think we are 50 years behind Dallas? The DART system is very vast but they ignored many areas with no stops. It’s all mainly express routes outside of the actual city of Dallas just so they could say it can get to that area in the Metroplex.
    I know the way Houston is going about it is a very slow process but it’s going to be better for the city of Houston itself. Anywhere Houston puts MetroRail, those ares get denser, that in turn will keep those residents from using their car to get to work, which will help people from the suburbs that have to use their cars still. In Dallas, those ignored areas that have an express route with no stops, all have to keep using their cars. Which isn’t helping traffic.
    Houston is still a long ways away from being done, we still have major freeway projects, Metro Rail & rapid Bus routes, bike lane projects along with walkable sidewalks and then even regular street maintenance/ improvements to go. We still have a good 15 years before all these different projects are close to being done and Houston will be an awesome place to get around.
    The only thing DART is ahead of MetroRail in are express routes to the suburbs, which I’d be against. The only express route I’d be ok with is getting to Bush IAH utilizing the Hardy Toll and I’d still want them to keep running the red line north to densify those areas as well.
    In 20 years or so, Dallas will be trying to do what Houston is doing now but it’s a very slow process and will take many more years to complete.

  • Bo,
    I feel your pain.
    However, grade separated transit costs about 5X what light rail costs on a per-mile basis. At a construction cost of $500M per mile (on the low end for grade separated transit in the US), if we assume ZERO operating costs, 5% interest on the construction bonds, and a $3 fare, each mile needs to generate 30,000 daily boardings to pay the interest on the bonds.
    Density is upstream of successful transit. If you’re serious about transit, start by eliminating setbacks and parking minimums, and don’t suggest building transit through areas that are largely deed-restricted to single-family.

  • Someone on HAIF compared the light rail to hobby to bus. It will take ~47 min to go from hobby to downtown via lightrail. It will take 54 min to go on the Purple line (If i remember corrector) from Hobby to downtown. If metro is going to dream, DREAM BIG! Do a line from Katy to downtown with 1 stop at the Galleria.

  • Take Metro to the airport? Isn’t that what Uber and friends are for?

  • And Bo, even with the major cities that do have those naturally desirable assets, there’s a good chance that the appeal would be accelerated by any “filling the gaps” with urban infrastructure.

  • We already know that NY, Chicago, and Mexico City have the transportation system figured out. Even Dallas and LA are already catching up. However, I feel like Houston doesn’t really take the transportation system seriously, almost like we’ve gotten used to just making freeways wider.
    I’ve lived in Houston for 15 years and I believe the reasons why we don’t really care much about this issue are the following:

    1- Our main concern is flooding and nothing else. The city budget will always be diverted to flooding issues and wages increase for city employees and other agencies.
    2- The city is too spread out and that is why the cost to build a light rail is expensive.
    3- Gas is really cheap, therefore we don’t mind driving long distances.
    4- Houston is not a tourist destination (yet) therefore, there’s no rush on METRO’s part.
    5- Affluent neighborhoods will not allow this to happen and I don’t blame them, due to land value and security concerns.
    6- Lastly politics.

  • @TheNiche, you’re looking at an extension of the Post Oak BRT.

  • Fannin South statio, straight down Bellfort to Hobby airport sounds like a great idea. There is already a median in the middle of the road ( wide enough for light rail )

  • I would use the light rail that is proposed to go to Hobby. I live in the area, and I work over on the East End.I definitely would take the rail down Broadway to Harrisburg, and into Downtown. I don’t know that I’ll be here in 20 + years, but I really can’t imagine trying to drive around this city and region with a population of 9.6 million people doing the same.http://www.h-gac.com/taq/plan/2040/demographics.aspx I spent 45 minutes a few weeks ago driving east to go west to have breakfast with a friend in Montrose because of all the freeway closures. And it will be never ending freeway expansions. I really wish we were more progressive in terms of transportation. Not everyone can afford to live inside the loop, and getting there has become a hassle.Maybe Metros plans aren’t the answer, but we need to think about the future.