The East End Doesn't Like Metro's Light-Rail Overpass (Updated)

The Houston East End Chamber of Commerce, the Eastwood Civic Association, and some East End residents are up in arms over Metro's plans for a light rail overpass on Harrisburg Boulevard. So what's their problem, you say? Why would anyone have anything critical to say of Metro? Yeah, Hair Balls found it hard to believe, too.

In a letter last month to Metro Executive V.P. John Sedlak, Eastwood Civic Association President Bryan Vezey wrote that his association "determined that an underpass is the preferred grade separation for the Harrisburg corridor based on its ability to increase economic development, increase Metro's ridership, pedestrian traffic, and reduce noise pollution."

Ian Hlavacek, who serves on the Greater East End Chamber's light rail subcommittee, also alerted Metro and City Council members to similar concerns, noting that "it is no surprise that the wealthiest areas in town, such as the neighborhoods in the Museum District and around Memorial Park, have successfully had entire freeways...depressed in trenches as they pass through those areas."

But Hlavacek didn't want to just bitch and moan. Armed with a 2004 Harris County Freight Rail Grade Crossing Study prepared for the Harris County Public Infrastructure Department and the Port of Houston Authority, he suggested that an underpass would cost about $16 million -- substantially cheaper than the $45 million Metro estimates for a bridge.

To which Metro's Sedlak issued a letter saying "the option of a cut and cover underpass is estimated at $67 million and the option of a bored tunnel underpass is $80 million....Given the commitment to date, and the significant cost differential, we have no option but to pursue the overpass design."

Whoa! Why is there such a difference between Metro's estimate and the 2004 county study? Was one calculated in pesos? Hair Balls put in calls to Metro Monday and Tuesday, and we'll let you know when/if we hear back.

Update: Hair Balls just heard from Metro spokesman George Smalley. Smalley was unfamiliar with the 2004 report, but said "We spent about $15,000 and about six weeks' time looking at what are called 'conceptual estimates' of an underpass. And we compared those to the conceptual cost of an overpass. And what we found was, it wasn't even close in terms of the cost."

He also explained that this wasn't just Metro's baby -- funding "partners" include the city, the county, the Freight Rail District, and the United Pacific Railroad. All entities must agree on the cost and construction plan, he said.

Further Update: Hlavacek tells Hair Balls, "Residents and business owners in the area are going to present testimony at the City Council meeting next Tuesday, January 27, at 2 p.m."

-- Craig Malisow

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