LEON COUNTY JUDGE RULES BULLET TRAIN COMPANY CAN’T USE EMINENT DOMAIN ON ACCOUNT OF IT’S NOT REALLY A ‘RAILROAD’ YET
On Friday, the judge for Texas’s 87th District Court declared that Texas Central, the company planning a high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas, cannot use eminent domain to snatch up land within Leon, Freestone, or Limestone counties — 3 of the 10 counties that the train’s proposed 240-mile route is set to traverse. Texas law does allow “railroads” to use eminent domain in seizing land for projects, it’s just that Texas Central doesn’t actually count as a one in the court’s view because it hasn’t actually laid any track yet and doesn’t currently operate any trains. “Texas Central is appealing the Leon County judge’s decision,” the company tells the Chronicle‘s Dug Begley, “and meanwhile, it is moving forward on all aspects of the train project.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Map of proposed bullet train route: Texas Central
The 660-sq.-ft. law office marooned on a traffic island in Seabrook for 86 years might finally get ousted from its spot in local what-is-that-thing lore when TxDOT’s planned road widening project gets underway along a 3-mile stretch of Hwy. 146. Attorney Michael Valentine bought the building on the corner of Bayport Blvd. and 2nd St. in 1989 and did it up with the leafy haircut and
shark dolphin-themed metal edging. (Bayport Blvd. is the segment of 146 that runs through Seabrook — shown to the left of building in the photo at top.) In its past lives, the 2-story wedge at 1210 Bayport had been at various points an ice house and a bait shop.
Documents filed with Harris County Clerk show that TxDOT agreed to snatch the building from Valentine for a sum of $114,356 last October after filing an eminent domain proceeding against the entity he uses to administer the property. At least 9 other businesses along Bayport, including Ryan’s Cleaners, Tookie’s Burgers, and Laredo’s Tex-Mex Cafe have already closed or relocated ahead of the roadwork that plans to turn 146 between Red Bluff Rd. and Clear Creek — currently 4 lanes — into 12.
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The only planned stop between Houston and Dallas on the proposed high-speed rail line shows up 27 miles east of College Station in a new report from the Federal Rail Road Administration. The map at top shows a rough outline of the Brazos Valley Station along Highway 30, as well as its surroundings in Roans Prairie, the small town that would host it.
Roans Prairie’s main drag is further east, off the map at the junction of highways 30 and 90. The town is currently home to a Valero gas station, Family Dollar store, U-Haul dealer, and Mobile Homes for Less.
Image: Federal Railroad Administration
One of these 3 spots revealed in a report from the Federal Railroad Administration will be the planned site for the Houston-Dallas high-speed rail line’s Houston terminal. All 3 are near the intersection of the 610 Loop and the BNSF rail tracks that run parallel to Hempstead Rd. just south of 290.
In the map at top, the station takes the land directly north of the Northwest Transit Center, where an industrial complex home to Icon Electric, Engineering Consulting Services, and others exists now. Hempstead Rd. is shown fronting Northwest Mall at the top of the plan.
Another proposal puts the station in the spot where the mall is now:
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Bullet Train Station
THE WOODLANDS BEATS HOUSTON TO ITS DOCKLESS BIKESHARING FUTURE
While Houston’s city council debates proposed new regulations that might allow as many as 6 competing companies to let loose as many as 3,500 new leave-’em-anywhere shared bicycles each across the city over the course of a year, The Woodlands has decided to go ahead with its own smaller kiosk-free program — with a single vendor. Mobike, a 2-year-old Chinese company now ranked as the largest bike-sharing organization in the world, will begin unleashing 50 to 100 bicycles, mostly intended to be used around The Woodlands Town Center. The company has operated in Washington DC since September. The Woodlands Township entered into the agreement with Mobike after a pilot program approved in October with Houston docked-bike vendor B-Cycle stalled. [Houston Chronicle] Photo: Mobike
WAS IT A GOOD IDEA TO DERAIL I-10? Earlier this week Harris County Judge Ed Emmett appeared to pass judgment on one aspect of the Katy Fwy. widening completed almost a decade ago: “We cannot go back in time and undo some poor decisions, but we can learn from those decisions. One of the most glaring mistakes was the failure to convert the abandoned Katy rail line to commuter rail. Think about it, we had a straight shot from Katy all the way into Downtown.” But ripping up the tracks did not render a future rail line along the path of I-10 completely impossible, notes Dug Begley: “Though the rail line was removed, Metropolitan Transit Authority paid for overpasses along I-10 to be built to rail standards, meaning that if the region ever wanted to use the freeway for light rail, that is possible. Larger, commuter, trains, however would not be able to operate in the freeway.” [Houston Chronicle] Photo: cemaxx (license)
A couple of possibilities for Houston-terminal hyperloop tracks have made the latest cut in Hyperloop One’s global design your own economically feasible route contest. The company, one of a couple firms working to bring Elon Musk’s ultra-quick travel-by-tube-suction concept out of literal pipedream territory, will eventually pick a handful of winning teams to give a technological and financial boost. The Texas-centric network shown above would connect Houston, Austin, Laredo, San Antonio, and Dallas, apparently with special stops for DFW and the Ship Channel. (A direct Dallas-Houston leg wouldn’t be high priority, in case the bullet train actually happens, according to designer Stephen Duong). The other Texas-inclusive route that made the cut, going by the name Rocky Mountain Corridor, would connect the Bayou City to Cheyenne, WY, by way of Denver and Amarillo:
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BIG I-45 DOWNTOWN REROUTING, GRAND PARKWAY EXPANSION GET GO-AHEADS Yesterday was a big day for Houston freeway expansion and reconfiguration: On Tuesday, the Texas Transportation Commission gave the go-ahead for construction to begin in late 2020 on the first of 7 separate projects that will move I-45 from the west and south sides of Downtown to its east side, paralleling U.S. 59 behind the George R. Brown, reports Chron transportation writer Dug Begley. Separately, the commission also selected design and construction crews for the next segment of the Grand Parkway, from I-69 near New Caney to I-10 east of Baytown. How grand that section of the Grand Parkway actually ends up being may depend on your perspective: This segment of the Houston area’s fourth ring road is expected to cost $1.25 billion and open in 2022 — but the tollway will have only a single lane in each direction. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Diagram of I-45 rerouting: TxDOT
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE NO-BIKE-LANE BIKE PLAN “There’s even a more simple plan: Make the right lane 12 ft. (or more) and the left lane 10 ft. Don’t stripe new bike lanes or overly alter existing regulations. Don’t plan. Don’t get approvals. Don’t p/o motorists with the silly bike lanes that bikers fear and never use. We just need a little extra space for cars to pass us by. And: Motorists will like having buses and other heavy vehicles in the larger right-lane, too . . . you don’t even need signage.” [Chris M(2)., commenting on Comment of the Day: Houston’s New Bike Plan Is Just a Plan] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOUSTON’S NEW BIKE PLAN IS JUST A PLAN “The plan is really just a recommendation of where to put lanes. The decision of actually putting in the bike lanes in a given spot will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, mainly as roads are rebuilt. Most of the money can come from TxDOT, TIGER, TIRZs, etc. It’s much easier to get that funding if you have a plan already in place. An example: Maybe your local CIP project involves tearing up a road and replacing it. Instead of repainting the road with the old 12-ft. wide lanes, maybe make them a reasonable 10-ft. wide and spray in a line for a bike lane. That’s a cheap addition to a project that doesn’t involve a lot of overhead that would normally come from a separate project to put in a new bike lane somewhere.” [Biker, commenting on Houston Bike Plan Up for a Vote Again This Morning Amid More California-ization Fears] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW TO TILT THE ZERO-SUM HOUSTON TRANSIT GAME “‘The overlooked reason why cycling isn’t more popular is because driving and parking are far, far easier in Houston than in Amsterdam.’ You‘re right. So you know what would help increase the use of bikes? Allowing the market to determine the number of parking spaces. If [a business] gets it wrong and offers too few spots, they’ll suffer. But give them the choice. Right now business are required to supply tons of parking, making driving the dominant way people will always get from point A to point B. At least loosen up the regs in areas like Midtown and Montrose where we have a population that’s far more willing to walk, bike, skate, rail, etc. (or even Uber, which, while it puts cars on the road, lowers parking demand.)” [Cody, commenting on Houston Bike Plan Up for a Vote Again This Morning Amid More California-ization Fears] Photo: Bill Barfield via Swamplot Flickr Pool
HOUSTON BIKE PLAN UP FOR A VOTE AGAIN THIS MORNING AMID MORE CALIFORNIA-IZATION FEARS This morning’s city council meeting has the Houston Bike Plan back on the docket, following the most recent round of public-input-based tweaking to the plan (as well as a delay of the vote, which was initially scheduled for earlier this month). Over in the Chronicle Dug Begley recaps some of the arguments being made for and against the years-in-development guidance plan, which have a bit of a chicken-vs-egg flavor: do only 0.5% of Houstonians bike to work because safe-feeling bike paths are scarce outside of certain Inner Loop neighborhoods? Or are those areas where the active bikers are already clustered the only ones where bike path improvements are warranted? Councilman Greg Travis, one of the folks who pushed back the vote at the last council meeting, told Begley he does see a need for some kind of bike safety improvement plan, but adds that he’s “not sure this is the plan for Houston. We’re not Amsterdam or San Francisco, and we don’t know what’s needed here, really needed.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Map of existing ‘high-comfort’ bike paths: Houston Bike Plan Interactive Map
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOLDING OUT FOR THAT YOUNGER, SEXIER MASS TRANSIT OPTION WE HAVEN’T MET YET “Great. As I spend the next few years in grinding traffic, I can take comfort in knowing that no new mass commuting options will be initiated in our region, because we are waiting on futuristic autonomous cars to solve all of our problems. People will give up the comfort of their own private transportation for the luxury of riding in a glorified Uber (but without a driver to keep it clean or compensate for navigation errors). From an urban planning perspective, that’s like meeting a beautiful woman with a great personality but never asking her out because you are just certain that if you ever meet Kate Upton, she will find you infinitely attractive and satisfy you forever.” [Shmoo, commenting on Comment of the Day: Wait, So ‘Keep Adding Freeways’ Was the Long-Term Fix?] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WAIT, SO ‘KEEP ADDING FREEWAYS’ WAS THE LONG-TERM FIX? “The Chronicle article made a fairly big deal out of the following H-GAC quote: ‘Future growth and the resulting travel is expected to surpass our ability to meet regional mobility needs by relying solely on increased roadway capacity.’ I question the significance of this excerpt. Is that not the case at the present time? Has that ever not been the case?” [TheNiche, commenting on Houston #1 in Sublease Office Space; Downtown Getting a WeWork] Illustration: Lulu
HOUSTON-TO-DALLAS BULLET TRAIN PUTTING THE BRAKES ON ALL THOSE LAWSUITS The company planning to build a bullet train between Houston and Dallas appears to be altering the legal strategy it had been using to try to get landowners to allow crews on their land to survey property along the proposed 240-mile route. Texas Tribune reporter Brandon Formby says Texas Central Partners has withdrawn 17 lawsuits across the state (including one in Harris County that had a trial scheduled for July) and settled 21 others that had sought court-ordered access. Officials of the private company now say they will seek an “open dialogue” with property owners about letting crews in. The company tells Formby it has already reached land-purchase options with more than 3,000 landowners, accounting for 30 percent of the total number of parcels it needs, and 50 percent in the 2 counties along the route adjacent to Harris County: Grimes and Waller. The company announced last week that the train is now expected to begin operating in 2023. [Texas Tribune; Houston Business Journal; previously on Swamplot] Map of proposed high-speed rail routes: Texas Central Railway