The centerpiece of the "Metro Solutions" program authorized by voters Tuesday is the expansion of Houston's nascent light rail system to include 73 more miles by 2025. It is the largest mass-transit proposal adopted in Houston since the creation of Metro in 1978.
Voters approved a $640 million bond issue to accelerate construction of the next 22 miles of light rail, extensions to the 7 1/2-mile Main Street line nearing completion between downtown and Reliant Park. They also authorized 44 new bus routes, a doubling of HOV lanes, and extending Metro's participation in local road projects for another five years.
I'm not happy, but neither am I surprised. For the record, the light rail project will worsen traffic downtown, require massive subsidies to support, and will have exactly zero effect on traffic congestion.
The correct way to solve Houston's traffic problem was to have built heavy rail (also known as commuter rail). Light rail is a high-frequency, low speed, and low volume modality built to serve dense populations over short distances. Heavy rail however is a high speed, high volume, low-frequency solution, designed to serve diffuse populations over long distances. In other words, we need heavy rail from Katy and Sugarland and IAH and Clear Lake, coming straight down the existing I-10, US 59, and I-45 right-of-way, with train stops coinciding with the existing Park and Rides, and feeding straight into a single end terminal downtown.
There is one silver lining to the rail plan - if commuter rail is ever built in the future in Houston, the light rail system will help move commuters around who have arrived downtown. But with all federal funding being tied to light rail, what are the chances of true traffic relief?
UPDATE: I'm at odds with most other liberals on this issue, I guess. Both Charles and Byron are happy that rail passed. I think that the anti-rail forces did a poor job of educating the public - sure, they hammered the fact that the rail line will actually remove buses and won't alleviate traffic, but they didn't explain why. The distinction between light rail and heavy rail is essential to understanding why the light rail line will be so magnificently useless (unlike in Dallas, where there actually is a heavy enough population density to support it).
A commentor at Charles' site speaks longingly of having the light rail line extend out to Katy. AARGH!
I have long hoped the Katy Freeway expansion included a rail line or at least the provision for a rail line. That would be a disaster - light rail stretching out to katy would mean a commuter would need 1 to 2 hours to get downtown (Katy is a full 20 miles beyond Loop 610). It is simply not feasible to stretch a light rail line over commuter distances.
And you cant seamlessly link a light rail line to a heavy rail/commuter rail line either. The gauge of the tracks is very different because of the differences in weight and speed requirements. A heavy rail line would fall right off the light rail tracks. And a light rail car wouldn't even fit on a heavy rail track.
There is an alternate plan to the Katy Freeway Expansion project that does allow for rail - it's a great proposal and I hope it influences TxDoT. But I'm not optimistic.