Feds: Unused Richmond Light-Rail Funding Offer Now Expired, Getting Thrown Out

Proposed University Light-Rail Line

A letter from the Federal Transit Authority released this morning by the office of long-time light-rail derailer US representative John Culberson announces that the comatose plans for rail construction along Richmond Ave. have now lost eligibility for federal funding due to the project’s lack of major progress, reports Dug Begley for the Houston Chronicle.

Previous plans for the University Line show it running from the Wheeler Red Line station along Richmond to Cummins St., where a turn south would take the line down to Westpark Dr. before continuing out to the Hillcroft Transit Center just past 59 — connecting along the way to the also-stalled Uptown rail-turned-bus-line). The Richmond part of the route includes a 1.7 mile stretch west of S. Shepherd Dr. that falls in Culberson’s district; the rest of the route to Hillcroft falls within 7th district territory as well.


Begley writes that the plan for the University line isn’t necessarily dead — it just has a few extra stops to make on any potential paths forward: “Culberson and Metro officials last year came to agreement that any further rail development using federal funds in the region will go back to the voters. If Metro receives approval and the local money needed, transit officials could go back to Washington looking for funding.”

Map: Metro

Use It Or Lose It

42 Comment

  • I never understood the ultra-vehement opposition to the University or Post Oak lines. Of all the (actual and potential) light rail lines, those two routes would benefit these opponents (mostly upper middle class white people, it seems) the most by making it easier to get in and out of a major center of employment. Instead, Galleria area people will continue to sit and stew in the traffic that only gets worse every year. Sadly, I am one of those people sitting in traffic.

  • Culberson is the new DeLay. He ruins everything for his own hometown.

  • METRO had seemingly given up on the blue line a few years ago anyway when they stopped earmarking money for it. They also could have put it on the ballot this year per the agreement with Culberson — I’m sure that would’ve been enough to convince the FTA that it wasn’t dead yet — but they didn’t.
    I’ve always thought a line running straight down Westheimer/Elgin would have been a much better idea than trying to wind around Wheeler Station/TSU/UH. Westheimer is also much busier than Richmond going through Galleria, which causes massive delays on the bus routes there.

  • Lol, that’s what you get Houston…it’s Houstonians fault. If the citizens of Houston are stupid enough to allow Clown Culberson to stay in office and continue to screw Houston, then Houston deserves exactly what it’s getting (NO DECENT RAIL). So don’t complain or cry Houston, you’ve bent over for years and allowed this fool to stay in office and f*ck you, while he’s somewhere having a laugh. So there.

  • @Derek
    While the Westheimer line is a good idea I really don’t think the folks in Lower Westheimer (Montrose) would go for it. Plus I don’t think the ROW is there compared to Richmond.

    I don’t know why’s there’s not more talk of a line going down either Memorial Dr. or Washington. Basically the purple/green line would just continue west to the Post Oak Line.

  • I suspect that most of Culberson’s constituents (which include River Oaks, Bellaire, West U, the energy corridor, Tanglewood and the villages along Memorial) are rather unlikely transit passengers whose chief concern is how badly a light rail line will screw up automobile traffic along Richmond.
    In their defense, they’re probably not wrong about that. Anyone who’s ever driven along Main St (which, like parts of Richmond, used to be 3 lanes in each direction) can tell you what a pain it is. And, since automobile passengers provide their own rolling stock, a lane of street can move a lot more people per hour than a lane dedicated to light rail.

  • As someone who lives in Montrose and works in Downtown / Greenway Plaza, it’s incredible to me this cannot get done. I suppose it just makes too much sense for Houston and people would prefer to spend that much more time in their car, backed up on 59, Richmond, West Alabama, Westheimer, etc.

  • Good, the whole damn light rail never made any sense, it was always someone’s pet project for bragging rights and other’s attempt at building some sort of urban utopia. Houston is a car city and will be for the foreseeable future, make peace with it.

  • I used to be a light-rail fan until seeing it in action: as a passenger, I’m frustrated by its pokey pace. Who has time for that slow train to nowhere?
    As a driver, I get frustrated with other drivers who get freaked out in the left-turn lanes in the medical center. Tangles up vehicular traffic as they sit in a drive lane waiting for the train to pass so they can move into the turn lane. Or, they have their car butts hanging out blocking traffic – and the train’s progress. Complete fail for everyone.
    So, unless we make this thing elevated (out of the way of other traffic: vehicular and pedestrian) to speed it up, I cannot in good conscience advocate for it any more. Is there another solution? I don’t know.

  • Mike,

    Most of the commuters to the Galleria Area including Greenway Plaza wouldn’t benefit from these lines.

    Also, METRO has no conceivable way of funding these lines. METRO is better off not building them or they would be in dire straights like DART in Dallas. They have the lines, but bare anybody uses them. For all practical purposes their rail system is complete failure.

  • Culberson has made promise that the rail would not go down Richmond. Metro needs to find another way – possibly down Washington corridor. Move on and let his district suffer the long term mistake of not being connected. But Metro needs to do a better job of getting the line done with limited impact to the community. Harrisburg Overpass is a mess!

  • What if I told you we already have an existing, superior form of street-level public transportation running an almost identical route. What if I told you this form of transportation works within the existing infrastructure and doesn’t require hundreds of millions in capital investment that also impairs the existing infrastructure’s use.


  • This is crazy political meddling. When’s the last time we got to vote on highway transportation? Never.

  • Culberson’s district is pretty thoroughly gerrymandered, so I’m not sure that this news actually reflects on either Houston as a whole (Honest Truth) or the people living in his district that are most impacted by it (Mike). Also, there was a sizable contingent of people throughout the region that stood against the one line in order to stand against the entire concept and the referendum and they astroturfed the entire issue, making it into something bigger than it was. METRO, meanwhile, gave them ammunition; its leadership was horrible for years and years and now it doesn’t have the financial ability to make large capital outlays.
    I also kind of blame the pro-rail camp for transparently being METRO & LRT apologists and looking the other way at failures and at legitimate criticisms instead of pushing more proactively for reforms to the agency’s charter, political accountability, and scope. If Texas Democrats had pushed that in the state legislature, they’d may very well have gotten it, made the agency less of a lightning rod in the ‘culture wars’, and perhaps expanded METRO’s tax base; its probable that doing so would’ve required a compromise by way of which light rail expansion would’ve been absolutely stopped, but that happened anyway from lack of funding. The funding and the reforms should’ve been the strategic goal all along. It was a wasted opportunity.

  • JB3 FTW. The 25 runs every 10 minutes, almost as frequently as the LRT would run, yet still allows car traffic to move around it. All of you people who complain about sitting in your cars — why aren’t you on the 25?

  • Not sure DART’s light rail system is a complete failure. In 2015, it had just over 30 million boardings, which puts it at No. 6 nationally in terms of ridership. Whether it makes financial sense or not, I’m not sure, but the rail system in Dallas is actually useful in terms of where it goes, and it has been busy every time I’ve used it, FWIW.

  • Inside the Loop, Richmond looks more attractive than Westheimer for rail for two reasons — (1) a wider street right-of-way and (2) linking to Greenway Plaza. Anyway, if Afton Oaks homeowners have been successful in mounting a long political blockade of rail on Richmond, just think of what kind of fight you’d get from River Oaks if a politician suggests putting tracks on Westheimer.

    For that east-west link we really need, would the neighborhoods along Washington Avenue be any more receptive? That’s not Culberson territory, right? At least we’d have easy connections to the Northwest Transit Center, the proposed bullet train station site, and the Amtrak station as a bonus.

  • This is a shame. Commonsense your wrong on this. This would have been the backbone and the final leg which would have tied all of the lines together and connected them to most of the commuter bus lines that come from the suburbs. This was not a project for bragging rights but a logical form of mass transit for the future. Your just like the republican congress who doesn’t believe in science or global warming. Its people like you who make comments without understanding the big picture. Losing this money was not the fault of the city of Houston but was completely spearheaded by another shortsighted congressman Culbertson, who just happened to take over the same precinct of that other nearsighted republican Delay. Between the two of them they destroyed any chance Houston had to lay the groundwork for the future of the city when 10,000,000 people live here.

  • Perhaps now METRO can focus on planning BRT on our thoroughfares such as Westheimer, Richmond, Montrose etc., which is somewhat less expensive than LRT and isn’t a train, so people will support it. It would do wonders for transit service if planned correctly.

  • The rail line would have been great for tourism by connecting the Galleria to downtown and to NRG with Rice, UH, the medical center all in the mix. There are a lot of hotels in the Galleria area and so that would have been a great asset for people who want to come to town but not spend a big chunk of it stressing on our crowded freeways and streets.
    The line would have been a boon to Houston. Voters passed it. The blame goes square to GOPers who vote in people who work against their own city. GOPers love to talk about local control but that goes straight out the window when local control doesn’t mean what they want it to mean (no principle).

  • If everyone is against rail, perhaps they could use trolley cars just like they have in San Francisco and a small city like New Orleans. The Trolley cars could be used from downtown to at least Hillcroft. People could save money on outrageous downtown parking. It’s just a thought.

  • I used to think rail would be great until i actually used it to go somewhere, extremely slow. The only thing it’s good for is going to baseball/football/basketball etc and Uber is way better for that anyway.

  • I don’t think that’s a major loss. LRT the way METRO has built it is slow and actually adds somewhat to congestion by taking up a vehicular lane and messing up traffic flows ( I.e. no left turns). As others here say, it’s not “rapid” transit, it’s just transit, and frankly, buses accomplish the job just about as well, even if they aren’t glamorous to some people.
    DART built grade separated rail out to the suburbs and to the airport. It does go faster since it doesn’t contend with stoplights and traffic. It also doesn’t clog up arterial roads. It was a different approach, but I think that it was the correct one.
    I wish that METRO had built commuter rail down the RR tracks they controlled along the I-10 corridor and Westpark. They could have also tried to get rail down the 290 corridor before the 290 expansion plans became a done deal. AFAIK, Houston is the largest metro area in the developed world without some type of commuter rail transit. We’ll pay the price for that short-sightedness when the next million residents pile in here by 2025.

  • Looks like it’s time to implement the 59-Alabama busway connection I outlined back in March.

  • Thank you, JB3. I’ve yet to hear a decent explanation from ANYONE why rail on Richmond would be so much better than the high-frequency buses that we already have. Density along the Richmond route isn’t nearly high enough to justify rail, and likely will never be since the vast majority of the area is single-family residential. Yes, the buses do get bogged down in traffic, but a rail line would interfere with traffic so badly that it’s hard to argue that it would represent a net improvement. Investing a fraction of Richmond rail costs on Metro network improvements (such as P+R service to additional business districts) instead would have a far greater benefit to Houston.

    I sincerely wish that Houstonians would quit dumping on Culberson. He is a lot more accountable to his constituents than the vast majority of TX politicians.

  • I’m so glad about the 25 Richmond comments! I support rail but METRO has spend billions on these 2 (new Purple and Green lines) slow STREETCARS, that really serve in need communities but are too expensive to serve the few people they do. Now the 82 Westheimer sees about 12,000 riders a day and the 25 Richmond about 8,000. but light rail is entirely to expensive and slow to build. Houston could have the worlds most expansive BRT network, at a quarter of the cost and just as great service if it’s done right! we have over 5 routes with over 7,000 daily riders. 2 Bellaire, 4 Beechnut, 25 Richmond, 54 Scott, 65 Bissonnet, 82 Westheimer, 85 Antoine/Washington, a BRT Network ($250K a mile) of just these routes alone would cover huge tracts of the city, at the same cost of a few miles of LRT ($1Million a mile) and serve millions! we have all these wide streets already let’s put them to good use. Shoot add a 73 Bellfort and a 56 Airline/Montrose just for the additional coverage. that’s why the frequent network exsist to see what Red routes are doing well and could be upgraded to BRT or rail service and all routes listed pull over 5,000 as regular buses. An 82 Westhiemer BRT alone could push 25,000 daily riders if run from Hwy 6 to Downtown!

  • Light rail is really pointless in Houston. It takes up valuable realestate and solves nothing. IF it could have been built underground that would be fine but not possible. The layout of the city is not conducive to rail. Bus service is the best method.

    where rail is really needed is in the suburbs that bring people into bus transit centers. Commuter rail is the solution. These toy trains only serve the downtown developers

  • Unbelievable. Arguably the most important rail lines we need should connect uptown – downtown – airports. If Houston ever wants to have a glimmering hope of more tourism as well as regularly hosting important events, it MUST have a basic rail transport system. Not buses, not taxi’s, not uber. It’s not my opinion, it’s fact. Cities with rail infrastructure statistically have higher tourism and receive greater consideration for hosting events.

  • That’s disgusting. That money will just go elsewhere. While we sit in traffic. Thanks Culberson. Thanks for NOT representing us.

  • JB3 has the right idea. Metrorail is superior to local bus service in three ways — higher-capacity vehicles, (mostly) dedicated right-of-way and off-vehicle fare purchase. Bus rapid transit can give us two out of the three by simply dedicating one existing lane in each direction to buses on Richmond and building fare-collecting stations every half mile. Just use striping or, if you feel fancy, those “armadillo” humps like on the Lamar bike lane to establish the route. Presto — you have nearly all the benefits of light rail at a much lower cost than actual rail.

  • This has been one big, colossal mess due to one’s side incompetence and one’s side stubbornness. What the anti-rail/anti mass transit folks don’t get it is that it’s about the whole system.

    In an alternate reality where competence reins supreme and jurisdictions cooperate, METRO would go along with the ReImagined bus service after building the Main St line. Next you only build the University and Uptown Lines. Lastly you greatly expand parking ride. Boom system.

    You have light rail backbone with the weekday job/student potential in the hundreds of thousands (Uptown, Greenway Plaza, TMC, Downtown, Rice, UH, TSU, UHD, HCC, etc) and has major events/attractions potential in Herman Park, Buffalo Bayou, Museum District, and pro sports stadiums/arenas. The light rail is fed by the higher frequency bus service and commuter bus.

  • @ greg: “Great for tourism?” If you want transit to be “Great for Tourism” then you’ve got to look at transit systems such as in NYC, London, and Tokyo that are not only exceptional but that serve as cultural iconography for the city. There has to be some showmanship. Houston’s METRO was never building a cultural icon even if some people embraced it as such back in 2004 for lack of any sort of imagination otherwise. (Ironically, I’ve given rides to the airport from international visitors from places as different as India and Australia and they seem to really enjoy riding on the freeways, taking in the vast expanse of concrete and the tangle of overpasses and underpasses. Houston’s freeways are a spectacle! Houston’s freeways are cultural iconography!)
    For that matter, METRO (rightly IMO) wasn’t in much of a rush to bring fixed-guideway rail service to the airports because airport connections may be good for travelers, but they are perennial losers in terms of ridership in the cities that have them such as Washington D.C., Atlanta, and now Dallas. That’s not to say that they aren’t “good” for tourists, but the tourists that go to these cities or to Houston probably wouldn’t be persuaded or dissuaded based on the mode of transportation to and from the airport.
    Now, on the subject of local control. How local? The purist Libertarian sentiment regarding property rights is that eminent domain should never be effected for any transportation project, but that would negate pretty much all regional transportation projects and most neighborhood transportation projects. This is not the GOP’s position at all. The GOP’s position, stated or not, is that it wants to retain power and make money. This is also the Democrat Party’s position. The conflicts in what are ostensibly their platforms create a false choice that keeps the money rolling in from a diverse array of contributors and the power structure is what it is. Each party tends to favor its own constituents, and they have no incorruptible principles. Therefore it is in fact quite easy to find situations in which both partisans from both camps took on the mantle of advocating for neighborhoods, political subdivisions, municipalities, regions, states, and federal powers — as it suits them. By and large, when you see arguments like these trotted out, they’re red herrings and straw men.

  • Yayyyyy, another toy train route is dead saving taxpayers $$$$$$$$$$$$$, and me time waiting for the thing to get out of my way!!!

  • Rail cost twice as much to build and twice as much to maintain as a bus system. And buses go anywhere anytime. Add buses.

  • Will self driving cars optimize the flow of surface traffic such that the capacity of our roads will be greatly increased? This may reduce the need for mass transit and inadvertently make Culberson and other transit opponents look wise and prescient.

  • this non-news is so non-newsy.
    Culberson had been putting riders on the national budget that stated the money that the FTA just pulled off the table couldn’t be used for light rail on richmond.
    So this isn’t the death of the light rail on richmond, cluberson did that a few years ago. Sad that one person representing a small subset of the city can override the will of the entire city.

  • Med Center Downtown takes 30-45 minutes each way unless it rains heavily plus you get to watch anointed ones getting on and off for free. Total time walking to/from rail 45-60 minutes. Failure.

  • Light rail is a waste of money if it’s going to run on the street with traffic. It doesn’t save time and it’s cheaper just to run a bus with a dedicated bus lane. Metro should have built the rail above vehicular traffic going from downtown to the park and rides (above\along the freeways) with stops that are off the main tracks so that they can run express trains in between the local trains (local trains would pull off at the stops and the express will go by on the main track). Metro then can run buses to cover each of the zones that are in between the freeways to get the riders to their destinations. Also the can improve the park and rides by upgrading to parking garages and posting some security so people will feel safe leaving their vehicle.

  • Looks like Swamplot’s new editorial staff has discovered the only topic that generates more comments than beer sales in the Heights.

  • I used to live by the university post office near Castle Court so my daily life would’ve been highly intertwined with the Richmond rail. As a car owner METRO buses provide no real benefit as I can’t use them to travel to the energy corridor. The rail wouldn’t have changed any of that, but the rail would also have greatly increased congestion and pollution in my area by requiring a lot more stoplights to be constructed between the Shepherd/Montrose leg. The rail would have actually increased both my commute time and carbon footprint by requiring additional stops along Richmond. That would be true for every car travelling down Richmond, which far surpasses the number of METRO riders. You don’t build mass transportation to increase congestion and pollution. There’s lots of studies that point to valid reasons to oppose grade-level light rail.

  • Light rail sounds good on paper and looks cool in an ad but really does not work the way you want it to. Anyone who has ridden it knows it is quite slow, and anyone who drives in downtown or midtown knows its a HUGE hindrance to street traffic. At rush hour in downtown the trains get stuck behind cars in their lanes and will literally completely block streets that run perpendicular to the tracks. If we are spending the $1mil/mile or whatever ridiculous amount it costs, it needs to be above or below grade and independent from street traffic–otherwise light rail is just a slightly larger bus that can’t change lanes.

    In downtown Denver they have street that has been shut to vehicular traffic and has been dedicated to buses that shuttle up and down the street for FREE! The system is incredibly convenient, safe, works great, and has hardly any infrastructure. Imagine the same thing instituted on Main, Memorial, Richmond, Heights blvd., Shepard, etc….

    Oh, and the light rail Denver does has actually goes to their airport…

  • It is nice that the rail in Denver now reaches the airport. I was disappointed to see that it was not yet open on my last trip there a couple of months ago. I love Denver and Colorado for the great fun you can have outdoors but always thought the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall just felt like a suburban strip center in the middle of a downtown.