Metro vows to connect Houston
As one of many students who commutes to UH, English senior Forrest Peugnet waits patiently at the bus stop for his ride home. Like many, he relies heavily on public transportation, and with Metro’s plans to expand the Inner City Rapid Ground Transit, his way of getting around is set to change.
Houston Congressional representatives Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, and Al Green, D-Houston, are pushing for federal funding for a light rail system to run throughout the Houston area that will consist of five corridors. One of those corridors – to be located at UH – has been dubbed the University Corridor. According to Metro, construction is scheduled to begin in summer 2008.
The projected path of the light rail, however, has become a source of controversy in recent years. The line is set to run several places around Houston, including Texas Southern University, the University of St. Thomas, Greenway Plaza and the Galleria.
"I think a light rail would be great in the long run. It will provide an alternative to driving for both students and faculty," Peugnet said. "It would also be nice for all of the campus-dwelling students because it would provide access to lots of shopping opportunities that are hard to come by when you live on campus without a car."
Director of University Communication Eric Gerber said that the University supports Metro’s plans to expand its MetroRail service in the area.
"While our master plan for future growth indicates that the service will intersect our campus at Alabama, we have informed Metro that we will adjust that plan," Gerber said.
In a November 2003 referendum, area citizens voted in favor of the Metro Solutions plan, which stated that Metro would provide a "comprehensive transit plan that provides a range of technologies and services to address the varying mobility needs of specific corridors and the community at large through 2025."
In subsequent years Metro changed its path from Westpark Drive to Richmond Avenue, a decision that upset some residents. Originally, the Westpark line was set to run from UH at Wheeler Avenue to the Hillcroft Transit Center.
While the University supports the prospect of light rail reaching campus, some business owners and residents along the disputed path have not been as receptive.
Richmond business owner Mark Schweitzer is a member of Mobility Coalition, a grassroots group of residents, businesses and landowners opposed to light rail on Richmond.
"I have looked at both sides of the issue, and the negatives stand out 100 times more than the positives," Schweitzer said. "If you look at the Main Street line and what it has done to the businesses and the community, it has had nothing but a negative impact. Sixty-five percent of the businesses are vacant, and I do not want the same for my street."
To qualify for federal funds, Metro must file a report with the Federal Transit Administration, which includes an environmental assessment that leads to the creation of an Environmental Impact Statement, which Metro is drafting and is expected to circulate for a 45-day period in June in order to foster public comment.
Metro and Metro Solutions faced legal action earlier this year from resident and businesswoman Daphne Scarborough, because of what she said is unwarranted alteration of the original plan.
"Metro is confident it will prevail in any judicial proceedings," Metro Communications Supervisor Sandra Salazar said.
The Metro Board of Directors developed a list out of 50 alternative routes proposed at the beginning of the Federal Environmental Process last fall, Salazar said.
Metro is expected to select a single route for the University Corridor in August for development.
"(We) will not be distracted from fulfilling the wishes of the voters and building Metro Solutions," Salazar said.
Those opposed to the plan, however, are confident that Houstonians will shut down the proposed line if given another chance.
"I guarantee you that if it goes back to the voters, the (light) rail will be shut down 100 percent," Schweitzer said.