Extending Metro’s Main St. Rail Line to Fort Bend County

EXTENDING METRO’S MAIN ST. RAIL LINE TO FORT BEND COUNTY Metro’s lame-duck board gave its staff a half-million-dollar go-ahead yesterday to figure alignments, hold public meetings, and begin environmental studies on an 8.2-mile commuter rail line along U.S. 90A. The hunt for federal funding comes next: “It was the second development this month in efforts to bring commuter rail to the Houston region. The Gulf Coast Rail District recently hired a Houston engineering firm to study a line along U.S. 290 to Hempstead. A key advantage of Metro’s [Fort Bend] plan, [Chairman David] Wolff said, is that it would use trains Metro already owns on tracks that would parallel Union Pacific freight tracks in the same corridor, tying into the existing Main Street light rail line to create a seamless experience for passengers. The commuter line would begin at Fannin South, the southern end of the Main Street line, and continue to the Fort Bend County Line at Beltway 8.” [Houston Chronicle]

38 Comment

  • No doubt our mayor is thrilled that the old board approved this instead of her board aka the new board. Politics of course are at play. The federal funding for the three lines is in place. Thanks to the old board. Time will tell if the new board will be able to get the funding in place for the other two. The Richmond and Post Oak lines. Aka the Westpark and Upton lines. Time may also tell if the federal fudning is pulled as a result of the new board versus the old board which is really Annise Parker versus Gene Locke. Who of course won’t be representing Metro after the new board is in place.

    Harris County should just pull out of Metro and join the other counties and do their own thing. At least the people who REALLY need mass transit will finally get it. Park and Ride is nice. Rail is nicer. Real rail. Not the little choo-choo trains.

  • If they use trains they already own, then it’ll just be a light rail all the way to the County line. Fort Bend and the municipalities have to figure out what to do after that. If I was Fort Bend, I wouldn’t build a damn thing. Keep business relocating to Sugar Land, Stafford, Missouri city for the revenue and residents. Why should they help METRO and Houston?

  • Get it built! When the Commuter lines from Fort Bend, Katy, or Kingwood are finally built that tie into the lines in the city, perhaps the clueless will finally understand why the 5 city lines needed to be built FIRST. What good would it do to catch a commuter train in from Katy and then just get dumped at a terminus at North Main with no way to connect or transfer and get to other places in and around town? BUILD IT ALL, sooner than later! Stop wasting time trying to appease the naysayers who never support any transportation projects that don’t include 20 lanes of concrete and toll plazas.

  • I like how the pro rail supporters never make real sense and at the same time condescend any opposition. What? Are there no facts that back up your position?

  • If I was Fort Bend, I wouldn’t build a damn thing. Keep business relocating to Sugar Land, Stafford, Missouri city for the revenue and residents.

    Well let’s just completely destroy the economy in Houston to satisfy everyone’s little pet peeves with Metro. Quite a few residents would like the option of any kind of rail in order to get downtown to work. That bothers some. They are going to continue to work downtown whether some like ir or not. The difference is we might have a little less pollution as a result of a better option than Park and Ride.

  • The anti-rail group has never made sense to me; it all depends on your experience and point of view I suppose. The 28 lane Katy Freeway/Tollway/ HOV way will never make sense to me as anything but a corporate welfare project for the road building industry.

  • You haven’t explained why Fort Bend and their municipalities should support this by adding connecting rail.

    Fort Bend County has added jobs hand over fist to some new companies to the region and to some from Houston moving out there. Why would they build something that would harm that?

  • From kjb434:

    Why should they help METRO and Houston?
    I wonder the opposite all the time; why do Houston taxpayers continue to fund highway projects and “grand” parkways that primarily benefit the suburbs that are basically parasites to Houston.

  • So you haven’t looked into the real numbers that explain why one could better than the other (either way)?

    Just a feeling? What about the rail special interests that make billions constructing, maintaining, and supplying the rail cars. Siemens heavily lobbies transit boards because they stand to make billions. GE pushes hard because they make many of the systems to run the rail.

    Either way, a large corporate outfit will benefit from getting tax dollars to build something.

  • The benefits from freeway expansion far outweigh the cost economically and environmentally.

    The Grand Parkway is a mixed project that will primarily be funding through tolling and little tax funds. The engineering design is being paid for with excess money (money they don’t need to make bond payments) HCTRA has from the West Belt and Westpark.

    Tax dollars that do go to Grand Parkway construction will be repaid through tolls.

  • I’ve looked at the numbers for years, and they hold sway depending on what your objective is. The arguments against rail has always been that Houston is not dense enough; is not NYC or Chicago and the Houstonians will never give up their cars. I do not buy these arguments. They speak to the past, not the future. Every legitimate study indicates that Houston’s population growth will only accelerate over the next 50 yrs; that our regions population will double, then triple.
    NYC and other major cities with comprehensive rail systems did not wait to start building them until after they were already dense. There is no better time to be building a comprehensive system in Houston than right now when land and construction costs are incredibly depressed. Waiting will only mean billions of additional costs that we can avoid.
    I don’t want to see more of this city paved over with never-ending freeway and tollway expansions which is the only option that the County and TxDot ever consider.

  • Tolls is just another word for taxes.

  • From kjb434:

    The benefits from freeway expansion far outweigh the cost economically and environmentally.

    Unless that expansion is destroying your home, business, park, neighborhood, and quality of life. Spoken like a true engineer. Environmentally? You’re kidding, I hope. Oh, nevermind.

  • John

    The county and TxDOT can only consider those options by law. If you want them to consider rail, you have to get their rules adjusted.

    At the state level, mass transit is a local/regional issue.

    The first commuter lines for New York, Boston, and Chicago were built for the same reason people blame freeways for. Those lines were mean to allow affluent to live farther from cities. They opened up acres of land to be developed into suburbs. They made sense because the people would pay to use them and they were privately operated.

    The first subway systems in NYC and Boston were only constructed in the densest portions of the those cities and they were pushed not by transit advocates but my corporate interest in order to make millions (at that time) off of tax payers. Transit wouldn’t be economically feasible, yet at the same time the populace didn’t have access too are could afford cars. These people didn’t take transit because of some moral imperative.

    Building extensive rail now will only ensure that development will be built away from it. Why? The land is cheaper where rail doesn’t go. That is already the case with the Main St rail line. All the development along Washington Ave would likely have made it to Midtown if the rail didn’t cause a spike in land prices.

  • Obviously you haven’t studied the numbers. Reducing congestion (even moderately) greatly reduces the emissions from traffic.

    Rail transit never reduces vehicular traffic. This has been proven over and over again and is still taught as part of transportation courses in colleges throughout the world.

  • Well at some point we may find that global warming/climate change is real and so is peak oil. $10 a gallon gas may reduce emissions significantly. Of course in Houston, many will no longer have a job because they cannot afford to drive and have no other way to get to work.

    If you look at all major cities in this country, all have some sort of rail system to serve the outlying areas. All except Houston. I guess everyone can move somewhere else when they can no longer live here. That will leave the freeways and streets nice and empty for those who remain behind.

  • kjb434,

    Thanks for the lesson that I didn’t need, though as usual, your examples are completely one-sided. For example, Dallas has no problem with development along rail lines; it’s all about policy. We all know from your dozens of posts on the subject that you think that freeways and tollways will save the world. (sarcasm) I find that your constant drumbeat against any other alternatives to concrete to be a bit suspect. We seem to have very different ideas about what makes a city most livable, and how public funds are best spent to achieve that goal.
    I suspect we will rarely agree. It’s funny, we live less than one mile from each other,(both in Cottage Grove, I think) but our professional experiences (I’m an architect and planner, I think you said you were an engineer) and perhaps our life experiences leave us light years apart on some of these issues.
    It’s great to live in a place where we are free to disagree, no? Have a great weekend.

  • Well said John.

    Personally, I have serious issues with the policies in Dallas to force rail development.

    I still much prefer Houston’s more free way of letting development occur where it wants too.

  • From kjb434:

    “Personally, I have serious issues with the policies in Dallas to force rail development.”

    Wow, I didn’t see that coming. (More sarcasm, it’s Friday) You don’t think that building the Grand Parkway is not “forcing” development in the counties – to benefit a relatively few major land owners? I do. I also used to think that Houston’s ways were genius and best, afterall that’s what native Houstonians are force-fed from our developer-run political system. Only after traveling the world to see remarkable cities that with few exceptions have had development guided by planning did I see the light. Houston’s wild ways worked fine when it was a “small town”. I think the lack of planning is increasingly being revealed to be a disaster for a city that will soon be the 3rd largest in the country.
    There are reasons that Houston has some of the lowest property values of any major city in the country; including I believe the lack of planning which means the lack of confidence that your investment will be protected and maintain its value. Which is to say that you can never be sure that an Ashby Highrise, used car lot, bar, or 20 lane freeway won’t be built next door – literally next door. These and more of our “free ways” are not sustainable as this city continues its accelerated growth and will come back to haunt us.

  • Lower property values or real property values?

    Houston doesn’t inflate property values by deeming some area more desirable or not by dictating land use. Free choice allow people to take chances and build where you want. Your choice could be good or bad. You have to decide that.

    The high property values due to zoning is artificial based upon restriction of available land to develop. How is that a good thing? How is denying many residents to ability to own a home of their own good? Or is OK for a planner to say that these poor and middle class must lived in cramp apartments and we aren’t going to zone a bunch land for single family residential to give them the opportunity to own their own home?

    Also, pointing to Sugar Land and Pearland as local examples of zoning working isn’t good enough. I know many of the people that work in those two entities and the attitude is pro-growth. If either community has a developer that want to build a 1000 acres of new homes in their city on unzoned land, they will happily change the zoning get the land to develop. In most cases, those two zoning boards just allow the city to get a preview of what the developers want to build. Very rarely the projects aren’t rubber stamped.

    If Houston would have zoning, I would expect the system to be like many other cities where your property rights are now restricted to what can be developed. A board determines if your property value will go up or down. You don’t have a say.

  • I just hope before the new board cancels out the plans of the old board that we get to see the actual plans for the Richmond aka Westpark line.

    I not only want to see how they planned to have convergent lines along with traffic at Main and Richmond but how they planned to run the rail line under the spur bridge over Richmond just to the west of Main. Or were they planning to rebuild the spur bridge and hope we didn’t notice when they closed down not only Richmond but the spur into downtown.

  • From John:
    NYC and other major cities with comprehensive rail systems did not wait to start building them until after they were already dense. There is no better time to be building a comprehensive system in Houston than right now when land and construction costs are incredibly depressed. Waiting will only mean billions of additional costs that we can avoid.

    You think that these cities weren’t dense when the subway lines were built?
    When the subway in NYC was opened in 1904, the population of Manhattan was over 2 million people, compared with only 1.6 million today. Even when the plan to build the subway was drawn up, there were as many people in Manhattan as there are in 2010.
    Similarly, Boston, which claims to have the first subway system had about the same population within the city limits (i.e., the dense part of the city that needs transit) then as now.
    Inner Loop Houston’s population density is probably only half of Boston’s, less than a quarter of NYC’s, a tenth of Manhattan’s, etc., etc.
    But all these are just generalizations and really rough numbers. The important details are projected ridership, costs, and effects on traffic congestion on the roads.

  • From MattMystery:
    “Well at some point we may find that global warming/climate change is real and so is peak oil. $10 a gallon gas may reduce emissions significantly. Of course in Houston, many will no longer have a job because they cannot afford to drive and have no other way to get to work. ”
    REALLY? Is that the Plan B argument here?
    Let’s assume you’re correct $10/gal gas. That’s 3 times as much as now. Wouldn’t more people carpool? Or trade in for a smaller car? Or ride the bus? Are you really suggesting that people would quit their jobs because of $10/gal gasoline?

  • Wouldn’t more people carpool? Or trade in for a smaller car? Or ride the bus? Are you really suggesting that people would quit their jobs because of $10/gal gasoline?


    My point is that cities that already have mass transit that serves not only the city but the outlying areas will be able to add to the existing transit system to accommodate the increased need. Cities that don’t, and so far Houston seems to be the only one, won’t be able to. And so yes, many will quit their jobs, move somewhere else, and cross their fingers that they can find another job and be able to avoid ending up under the bridge. Metro is not alone in being clueless. We have a city and county government filled with “permanent” politicans as well as city employees who still can’t figure out how draw a straight line or add two and two. And the new mayor isn’t much better. She’s not out for change. She’s out for revenge. So I doubt you will see much change at all. If anything, expect things to get worse.

  • I’ve traveled the world and every time I get home I’m reminded of the fact that Houston is already a 10x better place to live than anywhere else. I’m not looking to play catch up with any place else.

    You think trains in NYC, Boston, Chicago, etc. make those places easy to get around. I bed to differ. Getting around Houston is far easier than any of those places. People in those cities don’t ride trains because they are some magically efficient mode of transportation. They ride the trains because the other choices are even worse. The roads/tunnels/bridges are jam packed with cars. They are tolled out the wazoo. And even worse, when you get there, there’s no place to park. None of these cities requires building to self-park like we do in Houston.

    One of the things that makes Houston great is the fact that at ANY TIME I can hop in my car and drive DIRECTLY where I want to go. When I get there I can park with minimal hassle and 99% of the time it’s free. People here take our ease of mobility for granted. I’m constantly amazed at the crap people have to put up with in other cites.

  • When I get there I can park with minimal hassle and 99% of the time it’s free. People here take our ease of mobility for granted.

    Obviously you don’t drive during rush hour and rarely go downtown. Or drive on the freeway during the summer when if you’re driving on the South Loop it often appears it is raining downtown. The result of smog. From all the “ease of mobility.”

  • Matt, Houston’s smog problems and its dust problems are frequently confused. I think you ought to do some research on the issue. You’d probably be surprised at the results, just as I was.

    Also, the uncertain prospect of $10/gal. gasoline is the best argument that there ever was for new and expanded managed HOV/HOT lanes. These systems not only promote carpooling and transit ridership and maximally utilize scant right-of-way, but allow for dramatic increases in the frequency of transit service and the number of destinations that can be served…on short notice. Fixed-guideway transit isn’t nearly so convenient or adaptable on short notice and is more expensive. P&R is the best hedge on fuel prices there ever was.

  • If it wasn’t for Houston, Ft. Bend county would look like Madison County.

  • Well said, Cam.

    …and John, keep up the good fight.

    I, too, am tired of watching my hometown destroyed by utterly-myopic, self-centered short-term, hit-and-run developers.

    Highway 290 – Look at the transit debacle that has escalated beyond saving thanks to awful development devoid of planning. It’s unbelievably bad, with more to come.
    Irresponsible development by the usual suspects.


    Remember, exurban chest-thumpers – Houston coughs, Sugar Land gets the flu.

  • Udunno,

    I actually don’t think that developers are the bad guys here. I’ve worked for some, and talk to many regularly. Some are great, some are lousy like in any other business. I’ve never come across one that is against planning, and most aren’t really against zoning. What they are most against is the lack of consistency in rules, guidelines and regulations. What they want most is a level playing field; to know that whatever guidelines (costs) they have to incur will be borne by their competitors too.
    It’s one of the things that makes to whole Ashby issue so onerous; highrises have been built on residential streets all over town from Four Leaf Towers that were plopped down in Tanglewood a quarter century ago to the Inwood built in the middle of River Oaks before that – but suddenly the rules are bent to placate a few noisy folks. It was just wrong.
    It always strikes me as odd that most major developers who operate in Houston also operate in cities with strict zoning, determined planning, and even architectural review boards with much success, but some Houstonians continue to think that they will abandon this city if we enact any of the same. They are clueless. Post Properties wrote Houston off in part because of the lack of stricter planning guidelines – which resulted in their Midtown project becoming an island of urban living surrounded by parking lots and suburban style development. (CVS, are you listening) Their very successful projects in Dallas and Atlanta represent what Houston could have had if our city council had even one cojone among them to look to the future instead of the past; that is, planning.
    Instead, Midtown has become a mishmash of disjointed development with the opportunity for creating the city’s best urban environment lost for decades. The same debacle is happening right now in the Washington Corridor. Area groups have fought for years to get the city to enact and enforce very basic planning guidelines for Washington Ave like wider walkable sidewalks of 6′-8′ instead of 3′, and guidelines to bring storefronts to the streetfront instead of parking lots. A couple of developers have instituted these features on their own, but most have not, so once again we have an area that looks very disjointed, is confusing to navigate, and very unfriendly to the many people who would like to park once and walk between the many new businesses. The city continues to drop the ball and miss opportunities like this. Some think this is great, I think it’s sad.

  • John,

    Post Properties wrote off Houston because we wouldn’t hand over millions in tax breaks and other incentives to them like Atlanta and Dallas has done to build their developments that aren’t necessarily successful financial ventures without the tax payer help.

  • kjb434,

    That is part of the story, but not all of it. Besides, what’s the difference in providing incentives to developers in Midtown vs. providing billions in incentives to developers of land all around the beltway and Grand Parkway by virtue of building those means of access? Many the developments in former rice paddies and cotton fields around Houston would not exist without the spending of millions of tax dollars on infrastructure to support them. Frankly I think it’s a better invest those dollars to support development literally adjacent to the regions two largest employment centers, downtown and the Med Center, than to enrich landowners 25 miles away.

  • John,
    You’ve got your agencies confused. The City of Houston (the entity responsible for planning, which is what you’ve been talking about up to this point) spends hardly anything anywhere that’s 25 miles away from the urban core. It also doesn’t have the budget to be able to provide billions in subsidy to anyone, inside or outside of their jurisdictional boundaries. And frankly, where the City of Houston has large areas of undeveloped land within their boundaries (south and northeast), they’ve actually been exceedingly slow at funding new thoroughfares.
    I’d also point out that our many master planned communities put most municipalities to shame in terms of the stringency of their restrictions. Just because somewhere is low-density or looks ugly or isn’t pedestrian-friendly doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been planned.
    And I do concur wholeheartedly with what you’d said about developers embracing planning, how their greatest fear is uncertainty, and about how the Ashby controversy was a travesty. I also concur that the City has dropped the ball on issues like sidewalks. But you’re fooling yourself to think that Post Properties is dissatisfied with their Midtown development being such a landmark. There’s a reason that their occupancy is always so high, and if there were a lot of competition just like it right next door, it wouldn’t be so special…or valuable.

  • TheNiche,

    Forgive me for not being specific enough,I just try to keep these comments from becoming essays. I wasn’t confusing agencies, but thinking about the expenditures of tax dollars in the region, regardless of the various sources. I managed tens of millions of CIP Funds for a COH department, and the greatest strain on those and operating funds was servicing far-flung subdivisions – those inside the city limits. The COH is more than 600 sq miles afterall.
    It didn’t matter if you were discussing streets, sewer, parks, libraries or fire and police; providing services to those areas costs significantly more than servicing the same number per capita within the beltway or loop. Of course the COH wasn’t forced to annex all those areas, but given a choice and there is always a choice, I’d rather see any dollars used as incentives to developers be used as close to major employment centers and existing infrastructure as possible, not near some good ol’ boys’ ranches.
    I never said that Post was dissatisfied with its existing development, only they wanted to do more, much more, as in Dallas and Atlanta. I disagree that they would want to be the only special product in the area. If the CVS block and additional blocks all the way to the rail line had been developed similarly to the Post blocks, then Post would have benefited even more. Instead of being at the center of a great urban block; it would have been at the center of a great urban neighborhood.

    A couple of fairly simple city enforced planning guidelines could have “guided” the area to greatness (hyperbole perhaps) instead mediocrity.

  • John,

    I’m sure Kingwood and Clear Lake would love to de-annex themselves from the city!

    Bye-bye strain.

  • I believe that neither Kingwood nor CL could possibly afford to be “de-annexed” at this point.

    Certainly K’wood doesn’t have the tax base and never will again.

    CL – tougher call, but I think CL is less unhappy (noone will ever admit to being content!) with city services than areas north. I’d say commercial -taxable- growth is in for a long pause in the greater NASA area. Would CL residents
    enjoy higher taxes for these elusive “superior” services? My vote would be NO.

    John – sorry we disagree about developer greed and short-sightedness. My disgust lies with those who acquire raw land with a “master plan” (e.g. 290 toward Prarie View or anywhere along the “Grand” Ditchway). These “visionaries” CAUSE sprawl with their “build it and we’ll force roads to come” master plan. Their CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS, along with the incestuous revolving door between gov’t and, for example, our mega-engineering firms fulfill this prophesy.
    They do come – to hell with any real macro-analysis/regional evaluation by the usual developer suspects – just another hit and run.

    And the excuse/rationale: 1) it’s the way we’ve always done it, and to hell with you, it’s legal.

    Then they buy “goodwill”. Every time I see the “Perry Family” wing on our NBC affiliate showcasing the Children’s Museum, I’m reminded of the hypocracy.

    My b’ground? Commercial contracting in all major Texas cities since 1980. When I was younger, I lined up with the “all growth is good” crowd (esp. eng. firms).
    I was dead wrong, and after having seen the results, I’m baffled as to why it’s not clear to those who DON’T have a financial stake.

    Probably ’cause the stakeholders like it muddy.

  • “I believe that neither Kingwood nor CL could possibly afford to be “de-annexed” at this point.”

    Well, Kingwood and Clear Lake didn’t want to be in a municipality period. If it was de-annexed, it could become a municipal utility district as it was before it was annexed. The district provided water and sewer, the county provide police and fire.

    Kingwood residents will tell you that they received no benefit from becoming part of Houston. The only difference is that they occasionally see a police car and that very limited fire station exist near them. Ambulance service from the fire department has to drive out there for calls since they don’t keep one out there.