UH Tries To Throw Metro’s Southeast Rail Line Off Track

University of Houston officials have asked Metro to move a portion of the Southeast Line, currently under construction, off its planned route — and off campus. Work on portions of the line on Wheeler and Scott streets near Robertson Stadium came to a standstill 2 months ago, West U Examiner reporter Michael Reed notes. Metro and UH officials have apparently been negotiating on the layout of the light-rail route since that time, but so far, according to Reed, there’s been no agreement.

Metro’s planned design for the line requires the transit agency to purchase a total of 4.48 acres of UH property, much of it in a strip along the eastern side of Scott St., just west of the stadium. A plan submitted to the Department of Transportation for funding last year shows the line and a Scott/Cleburne station on the east side of Scott St., on part of what’s currently a stadium parking lot. (The map, below, also shows that Metro adjusted the plan from a 2008 layout that would have eaten up more UH property.)


But UH hasn’t agreed to sell any campus land to Metro, and it appears university officials think they have come up with a better route. A marked-up aerial photo of the area — used in the March meeting where university regents approved plans to rebuild Robertson Stadium on its current site — hints that UH would prefer the rail line and station run along the west side of Scott, which would be off campus (path is shown in green):

A UH spokesperson tells Reed the university already sold Metro homes the university owned along the south side of Wheeler, but admits that “it is likely that the Southeast line would require some acquisition by Metro of University of Houston property.” None of that has happened yet. Metro expects the Southeast Line to be running by fall 2014; if the impasse with UH isn’t resolved within a few months, it would likely affect that schedule.

Photo of Wheeler St. construction: West U Examiner. Plan: Metro. Aerial view: UH Board of Regents (PDF)

44 Comment

  • Hold firm, UH! You need every acre available and the west side of Scott is trashy so the rail line in terms of development is a big improvement.

  • The typical incompetence of METRO. Why wasn’t the land secured before construction? That is a typical step with any other linear government infrastructure project.

  • Is this because UH wants more parking for their new stadium? Because if so, they need to learn what transit is *for*. The reason the route goes to that neighborhood at all is to allow people to get to UH without cars, right? Now riders should have to walk in the street so UH can keep more asphalt? Or if it isn’t about parking, what is it?

    I don’t know what has already been agreed to. If UH and Metro had an agreement at the time the rail line was approved and finalized, I’d say it’s too late for UH to back out now—if they won’t sell, time for some old fashioned eminent domain.

  • Agree with Greg. Don’t need new accidents with UH football fans both on foot and in cars.

  • It was foolish of METRO to assume a growing, land-locked university would just sell it’s land when asked politely.

    All property should have been purchased before construction ever began.

  • As a UH student all I can say is our campus can not afford to lose any land period. Keep this line off our campus!

  • How is it even possible to start a project like this without having had secured the land? Call me crazy, but that seems like an important thing to check off the ol’ list before you start getting your hands dirty.

  • Can one government agency use eminent domain over another? Or is that only for private property? Still, UH should give up the strip of land. Or raised their objections earlier.

  • Yeah, not sure what UH is trying to accomplish here. This line will be incredibly useful to students and help the University reach their stated goal of transitioning away from a car-commuter campus. Yes, UH has limited property, but land use on campus is still pretty inefficient, particularly considering the overabundance of surface parking lots.

  • UH should be happy METRO is even building the rail line near their university in the first place but instead it wants to cry about a small, measly, strip of land! If land was so precious to UH, why isn’t this strip of land being used? Looking at the map above and Google Earth imagery, one can plainly see the strip is currently just a buffer of pure grass between Scott and the stadium parking lot. Practically a median! There’s a reason why universities have high tuition’s, use that money to expand the campus if needed in the future!

  • If UH wants something to happen, they need to pay at least half the cost if it cost more to do. If they want, Metro will probably when and do what they were already, and rightfully going to do.

    Plus, west side of Scott not trashy for ignorant two that want to say on here. just shows reason that neiborhood doesn’t like certain people that come over there because of people showing disrespect to it like that. I’m not even from that area, but I can feel when you get the unusual people coming to your established neighborhood.

  • @ Texasota: I’m guessing that you have not ever attended UH, or perhaps that you paid more for the premium parking lots. Parking is already a nightmare. If METRO wants this land, then it should be paying not just for the land but for a new parking garage on a site of UH’s choosing in order to fully offset the impact of lost parking spaces.

    But there’s another issue, which is that vehicular ingress and egress along Scott is bad enough as it is without having interference by LRT vehicles and crossing gates. UH should be compensated for the impact of any induced congestion as well.

  • @ Eddie: Look at the diagram, not Google Earth. the median would require re-striping of the parking lot that would result in a loss of hundreds of parking spaces. That’s a huge deal!

  • You know UH, you could uhhh.. build a parking structure rather than using that ‘precious’ land on surface lots.

  • UH is trying to become more residential and maintain its green space. See the Master Plan here: http://www.uh.edu/about/initiatives/master-plan/index.php

    By the way, a few years back they began installing large mature oak trees between Scott and the stadium lot, but then stopped and pulled them out. Someone must’ve asked about the cost.

  • Oh hey, it’s The Niche!

    I am, in fact, currently a student at the University of Houston.
    Parking is not a nightmare. People are free to whine about walking all the way from the cheap lots to campus proper, but that doesn’t change the fact that parking is always available.
    I do not understand this mindset that people are entitled to a parking space right next to their destination. If you’re communiting from Clear Lake or Katy, you can drive to campus, park, and then walk 10-15 minutes to whatever building your class is in. This is not unreasonable.

  • Oh, and I don’t have any sort of parking permit at all. I ride my bike or carpool.

    And this is a public transit initiative using public land. Yeah, if the university had a problem with this route they should have made it known YEARS ago. It’s not like Metro sprung this on poor, unsuspecting U of H- this route has been set for quite some time.

    And yes, I actually believe that public transit should take priority over any slight inconvenience caused to drivers on Scott.

  • As a UH alum who attended before the current parking structures were built, I can understand UH and its students wanting to avoid losing any parking spaces. But the problem with parking at UH isn’t the lack of spaces, its the underpricing of spaces. If UH were to up the prices of parking by a multiple of 2X, 3X, or 8X per semester (whatever the market rate for selling out all available spaces is), UH would have more revenue and students who really wanted to park on campus would be assured of having a spot. This would also encourage students who are either unwilling, or unable, to pay market rates for parking to either live on campus or commute via public transit (both of which are in line with UH’s stated desires). I realize that this would anger a lot of students, but its certainly fairer to all parties involved than is the current practice of selling them a parking permit for a space that doesn’t exist.

  • UH should realize that a rail line helps them. That said, I am more focused on the stupidity of the way Metro is putting in rail lines. “At grade” is sure to cause a traffic mess and more accidents. Why can’t they elevate these things? Have you seen the mess they caused in the med center with rail? It’s pretty half *ssed if you ask me.

  • Americans are such whiny people who can’t ever part with their precious cars. If they don’t park RIGHT NEXT to the destination they are upset. Listen fatso, do something for your health a take a 15 min walk. You will live and be healthier for it, I promise. I hope Metro does takes the land, the construction is a nightmare and they are holding up PROGRESS. Kathor should be ashamed of herself, public transportation should be priority to a university and Metro does not need to bother with leaving parking spaces when it is for public transportation!

  • I can’t wait until the Capitol line is finished. Then we can start an online pool and place bets for how long it will take for the first T-Bone Light Rail crash between the Main and Capitol lines. I wonder who Metro will blame then. They won’t be able to blame a car driver since they always seem to be the ones at fault. Judging by how the bus drivers drive, I can’t imagine the light rail operators are any better.

  • @ Texasota: It sounds like you’re basically saying, “If your circumstances differ from my own, then fuck you. Be like me.”

    But yeah…what I paid for what I lived in was far less expensive (including the parking pass) than what students pay for on-campus housing and meal plans. Affordability should be a concern, IMHO.

  • Soooo….. have none of you realized that non-commuter colleges DON’T have lots of parking?!?!? You speak of the longterm plan transitioning away from being a commuter school, but want parking… Someone must make Sophie’s Choice!

  • i can’t believe Metro would begin the project without having the land issue already resolved. At the same time, I can’t believe that UH would be so short cited that it would care about a few parking spots as opposed to having a light rail route to downtown and the medical center–incredibly short cited. I would be outraged if I was an alum or current student there.

  • @Obvious: Fine, then run it a different way. If UH keeps this five acres as parking, then it can develop a five-acre area closer to the core of the campus as additional classrooms, research buildings, dorms, retail…walkable whatnot. It gives them more room to grow. Why should UH sacrifice its footprint instead of the strip of crappy fast food joints and other miscellany on the west side of Scott? How does that stuff enable a livable environment; in my experience, that other stuff just reinforces UH’s reputation as being in a poor high-crime minority neighborhood (which shouldn’t make a difference, but does nevertheless).

    @htownproud: You present a false choice. UH will get light rail along the Scott Street corridor regardless of whether it runs along the east or west side of Scott Street. You make it seem as though LRT is in jeopardy altogether, which it is not. In fact, since METRO is already constructing it…UH would seem to be in an excellent bargaining position. They should ABSOLUTELY throw their weight around at the expense of Burger King, et al. This is their opportunity to clean up that corridor.

  • Niche, you’re so good at putting words in my mouth.
    I have used the commuter parking lots. They work fine and are a reasonable distance from classroom buildings. I understand that someone living in Katy would be unable to ride a bike or (probably) carpool, but the fact is, there is parking available for people in that situation.

    If anyone is saying “If your circumstances differ from my own, then fuck you. Be like me,” it’s you.

    Adding rail connectivity to campus is about increasing options and, for people living along the line, decreasing expenses. What’s cheaper than living off campus and paying for a (even very cheap) parking pass? Living off campus and paying student prices for the light rail.

  • Moving the line at this point, even just across the street, adds cost and time. I’m sorry, but I don’t think that’s worth it *at all* to save some parking spaces.
    It’s a five-acre strip; it wouldn’t make much of a difference on what UH could develop on that parking lot in the long term.

  • As a current UH student, I can say the parking situation definitely isn’t ideal but really is not a huge problem. If you’re willing to come a little early or walk half a mile you will always find parking. If you’re expecting to always be able to park within 20 yards of your class you’re going to be an issue.
    In terms of raising prices on parking permits, I would imagine the reason parking permits are so “cheap” (~$150/semester, $400 per year) is because I’m paying $5500 every semester in tuition to subsidize that (UH’s tution, at least in the engineering program, is higher than both UT and A&M while simultaneously being far less “developed” to put it nicely). That’s a different topic though.
    UH should do whatever is in their best interests and the best interests of their students (although I think they’ll probably prioritize the first). There’s no reason for UH to be penalized because Metro didn’t receive appropriate commitments for their project. If you were in their position it’s more likely than not that you would do the same thing.

  • UH is very short on land. If Metro wants the 5 acres or so let them compensate UH with adjacent land elsewhere. UH has already given Metro land along Wheeler. The property across Scott is run down. If Metro isn’t willing to take the hint, I say fight tooth and nail.

  • UH’s complaints are a day late and a dollar short. They should have seen this before hand.
    But my complaint about the University Line happens on the other end of it. The line could have actually started AND ENDED near a university. But instead of extending the rail line through the commercial core of Sharpstown and on to Houston Baptist University; they’re stopping it at Hillcroft Transit Center.

  • @ Texasota: You still misunderstand. I’m not saying, “fuck you,” to anybody. Quite the opposite. I’m saying that it’s good to have the LRT option, but it is also good to have parking and/or land onto which UH can expand. There should be both, such that the policy is inclusionary of anybody’s commuting or lifestyle preferences.

    Even if, for some reason which is beyond my comprehension, it is desirable to coerce students to live on the campus or to ride transit to the campus rather than drive, then that policy is best enacted through measured price controls that distort the market in a measurable and highly flexible manner. Let money be the motivator. The taking away of infrastructure seems rather inefficient by comparison.

  • @Niche–The “miscellany” on the east side of Scott includes a university, high school, and public library. Whatever one might feel about the quality of these institutions is one thing, but to categorize them as “miscellany” is arrogant to the point of ignorance.

  • Tiredrexas, the high school is not impacted under either plan. Is the public library still open? This is a failure of vision on the part of Metro. They seemed to assume that UH would buckle to their land grab and that’s not the case. Metro should have acquired rights to all of the land they needed before starting; I suggest they start considering other alternatives though I know that’s hard for a bueacracy.

  • TheNiche says: “Let money be the motivator. The taking away of infrastructure seems rather inefficient by comparison.”

    “They should ABSOLUTELY throw their weight around at the expense of Burger King, et al. This is their opportunity to clean up that corridor.”

    Niche, your comments quoted above seem to contradict each other, along with your views expressed on this blog that aesthetics in real estate development shouldn’t mattter much if the highest and best use of land is obtained.
    Remember that the Burger King, et al on the other side of Scott are there for the reason that students going to the UH campus patronize them and spend money with them. The owners of the land the fast food joints occupy pay tax dollars to our city and county. As a state run institution, UH does not pay property taxes. So if another government institution is going to gobble up some property, the least impact on our property tax rolls would be to take land that is already tax-exempt. UH’s parking spaces do not generate nearly the revenue that the private businesses generate and which you think would be a better choice to annihilate.

  • The 100 or so parking spots that the line is eating up here should easily be offset by commuters on the rail, UofH, this is ridiculous and a little late for objection!

    I have been working with the engineering firm responsible for the SE line, and they told me it could be 3 weeks to ??? months before it is resolved, obviously a major delay for the opening of something extremely beneficial to this college.

  • I can’t imagine the train stopping on the west side of the street and making hundreds of riders cross that street to reach campus.

  • Roughly 100 parking spaces, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t really a big deal to U of H.

    Not sure why they are delaying this project so much, too bad.

  • Currently UofH has 17,134 parking spaces. 100 spaces represent 0.6% of total current parking.

    Just for some perspective here.

  • @ShadyHeightster: There is nothing conflicted about my statements. Aesthetics matter to UH and so does parking. UH students patronize the Burger King, I’m sure, but there are other options in less obsolescent restaurants both on-campus and off-campus. At the end of the day, the economic impact of more or less retail is pretty close to nil; people will still buy things according to their budget.

    Property tax revenue should not be a consideration. Neither METRO or UH pay property taxes; taxing entities are not involved in the suit. If we’re going to debate policy, then perhaps it would be worthwhile to debate the merit of exemptions in the first place (and especially where intergovernmental payments would be concerned). That’s the more appropriate debate.

    @ Northsider: UH is a growing and land-locked university. If light rail can reduce demand for parking lots, that’s great, but that just means that UH could take land away from parking lots closer to the core campus and allocate them to other uses that are compatible with their mission (possibly including retail and food service, but differently configured). The question should be, “Will five acres sacrifice some old fast food restaurants or it sacrifice the growth potential of our foremost university?” I know MY answer.

  • Metro has already decided who to take from. UH and the cheaper property on the east side of Scott north of Elgin. Cutting across Scott is not even a viable option at this point and my opinion is UH is publicly positioning for something it’s not going to get but is actually wanting something else that will come out when all is said and done. Maybe a park&ride garage at the Cleburne station…

    UH has a valid interest in preserving their “neighborhood face” of the Scott St. frontage (a great place for eventual expansion/relocation of future bldgs). UH also has an interest in preserving the green space on the other side of Holman street as well for the same reasons. However from a design perspective this is a could be a good circulatory problem to have if in fact the rail takes this ~500 acres of linear space.

  • “Will five acres sacrifice some old fast food restaurants or it sacrifice the growth potential of our foremost university?”

    This is also as I see it. UH never gave them the land and would prefer to lose the Wendy’s, BJ, Navy “Seafood”, etc. than lose valuable space. They waited until their barging chip was the biggest and they were sure of their stadium plans. I choose UH in this fight over the restaurants.

  • Well the construction is past Elgin, going towards Holman now. They really picked a fine time to figure this out.

    I doubt it’s very good for the fans or students to have to cross the street to get to/from that particular LRT line.

  • Maybe UH should do a big park & ride & use The Wave buses for students, faculty, and staff. That way no land needs to change hands, no huge federal dollars spent, just back to the basics transportation. The Wave is running for many of Houston’s big events too & lately started doing park/walk & rides to them for low cost, thus reducing emissions one car at a time.

  • #40 i-jim:

    Is it really 500 acres of linear space?