Downtown light-rail riders: Your patronage of public transit isn’t enough. A giant billboard covering most of the facade of the 2-story building at 312 Main St. now urges passengers emerging from the northbound Preston stop to get rid of their vehicles altogether. The unassuming Houston Site Acquisitions storefront has scrapped its own above-door signage in favor of a story-high ad for Texas Direct Auto, complete with oversized doggie in the window.
Large-scale advertising for businesses not currently in the building is nothing new for this block of Main St.: Just next door, the sky-high neon above perpetually hungover neighbors Dean’s and Notsuoh still heralds the days of credit clothing retail. But the Texas Direct Auto ad incorporates the structure of the building itself, placing the large image of a small dog behind an actual window visible through a cutout in the wrap:
With a row of Downtown towers looking on from the south, 2 lanes are being added to Burnett St., along the northern boundary of the 50-acre site formerly known as the Hardy Rail Yards. The thickening runs between N. Main St. and Hardy St. At the western end of that stretch, next to the Burnett Transit Center stop on the Red Line’s northern extension, a new baby intersection has been born at Freeman St. just in front of the rail overpass, just up a ways from the N. Main tunnel:
After a year and a half of redrawing, presenting, and tweaking, Metro’s “reimagined” transit plan was approved by the transportation agency’s board today. The interactive map above shows the whole system in all its reconfigured glory, including the new rail lines currently scheduled to begin running in April. Bus routes will switch over to the above route system in August.
METRO PONDERS HOW TO SPEND A LIGHT RAIL SURPLUS What should Metro do with the extra $39.9 million it’ll end up with after the Southeast and East End rail lines open in April (on the 11th, it now looks like)? If the money isn’t spent, it’ll have to go back to the Federal Transit Administration, reports Dug Begley. $24.9 million of that would have to be spent on projects related to the year-plus-old North Line extension (the Red line), and $14.5 million would be restricted to use on the Southeast Line (aka the Purple Line). Among the proposals: building an elevated walkway between the bus transit center and the rail line at Northline; putting in extra parking at Palm Center, at the end of the Purple Line; shelters for bus stops near stations; an additional station on the Purple Line between Elgin and Leeland; safety or operational improvements, such as a restroom for train operators at a station; a crossing arm on Texas Ave. near Chartres St. [Houston Chronicle] Photo of Burnett Station: Skyline Art Services
WHY METRO TRAINS ARE ALREADY ROLLING AROUND UH No, the new light-rail lines won’t be ready to carry passengers anytime this year — if you’re looking for a ride, check again in 2015. But over the next couple of weeks, you may see a Southeast Line train or 2 skirting the western and southern borders of the University of Houston. Starting today, Metro will be shuttling vehicles along the path shown in red on the Purple Line map at left, from the corner of Elgin and Scott Streets through MacGregor Park to the vehicle storage facility just past the Palm Center Transit Center — for safety testing.Map: Metro
Metro has posted the latest designs for the enormous Hughes St. overpass along Harrisburg Blvd. on the far-east segment of the East End rail line. The $27-to-$42-million bridge is meant to carry cars and Green Line passengers over the Union Pacific East Belt freight rail line that runs north-south just west of Hughes St., between the soon-to-open East End line’s between the future Altic and Cesar Chavez stations. The posted design concepts, Metro notes, combine a “garden” wall and a wall noting a few 4-digit numbers important in the history of the neighborhood with a ribbon of white LED lighting above and blue accent lighting underneath and along the columns:
No, no one’s expecting Metro’s 2 new light-rail lines to open any sooner than late December (as Swamplot reported last week), but some progress toward that goal is now visible on portions of the East End and Southeast lines: “Live wire” or powered testing of the downtown tracks began this week. The photo at right, sent in by a reader, shows a Metro train moving unescorted along the tracks on Capitol St. for the first time.
There’s still “some uncertainty” over the exact schedule, but all the pieces needed to allow Metro to open Houston’s second and third light-rail lines won’t be in place until late December, according to reports delivered to a committee of the transportation organization’s board of directors last Friday. Previously, an opening date sometime this fall had been projected for the Southeast and East End lines (though the far eastern end of the East End line won’t come on line until a newly planned overpass is built under over the Union Pacific East Belt freight rail line between the future Altic and Cesar Chavez stations). Delays in the delivery of trains aren’t the sole reason for the late openings, however.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW ABOUT A RAIL LINE ALONG THE BAYOU? “I always thought a line down Memorial Drive along Buffalo Bayou would be awesome. It seems like it would be pretty easy to adapt the stretch of Memorial from downtown to Shepherd in to a rail friendly street — there are pedestrian crosswalks already, abundant lanes, and no stop-light intersections to contend with. They could take a lane or 2 from Memorial Drive, make a new right of way down the park, or even make an elevated line (which all of them should have been). The stops could tie in with cross streets or some the existing pedestrian bridges. This could be a real ‘showcase’ line for the city being right next to what seems to becoming Houston’s prime inner city park location. The line could continue all the way into Memorial Park and maybe even somehow get to the Galleria.
And of course Swamplot is the best forum for me to lobby my vision.” [actualarch, commenting on What’s the Point of Metro’s New Buffalo Bayou Bridge Under I-45?] Illustration: Lulu
A reader who’s been watching construction of the new bridge that’s gone up over Buffalo Bayou and fitted neatly under I-45 at the far western end of the new under-construction Southeast and East End light-rail lines wonders what its purpose is. The bridge is beyond the planned Theater District stations, the last shared rail stops for the 2 lines. Is it a bridge to nowhere, or the starting point for some later western expansion along Washington Ave?
As noted in this morning’s Headlines post, yesterday Metro toted around some trains for “clearance testing” on the eastern stretches of the East End and Southeast rail lines scheduled to open later this year, in advance of electricity being brought down the lines. But downtown, repair continues on a 200-ft. stretch of track shared by the 2 lines on Capitol St. between LaBranch and Crawford — where the rails “probably shifted during concrete placement” and therefore didn’t set properly, a spokesperson for the transit agency tells Swamplot. The concrete has been torn up so the stretch can be rebuilt, level. The rework is being paid for at no cost to Metro by the contractor, Houston Rapid Transit, and will not cause any delay in opening the lines, the spokesperson says.
Why were crews yanking out and replacing a brand-new 240-ft.-long stretch of rail and concrete on the not-even-opened-yet Southeast Line at McKinney St. (above), next to the Columbia Tap trail in East Downtown, earlier this month? Because back on May 30th, a 7.2kV CenterPoint Energy electrical line fell onto the tracks and their overhead line three-quarters of a mile to the south, at Scott St. and Coyle St.
In addition to the McKinney St. burnout, 20-ft. sections of rail and track slab got zapped near crossings at Nagle St. and Elgin. At the incident site, 80 ft. of concrete and anti-vibration insulation had to be scrapped and replaced.