Chron: Rail (METRO) v Bikeway (City)

I was a bit surprised when I read in this morning’s paper that “the bikeway plans [through the Heights] … could begin and be completed in 2008”. Could being the operative word. Next year is what they’ve said every year since 2000 or so.

Rails to Trails LogoThis bike trail rail line was cleared a decade ago and has been owned by TxDOT since then. The City’s been talking big about it being a bike trail that entire time. Now METRO is interested in the right-of-way. Was anyone really surprised that they weren’t aware of the City’s purported plans?

If the City had built out this route “next year” one of the previous times, perhaps METRO wouldn’t have been so out of the loop.

Metro hits brakes after being told of city bike trail plan

Transit agency board intended to vote on a land buy for commuter rail

Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
Aug. 23, 2007, 10:52PM

The Metropolitan Transit Authority shelved a planned vote Thursday to buy a former freight rail bed for commuter rail, after learning — to board members’ surprise — that the city plans a bike trail there.

Board member Rafael Ortega said news that Metro is interested in the route had “created some concern in the community.” He suggested that Metro should “communicate our regret to the city of Houston and TxDOT for jumping the gun.”

Chairman David Wolff said that was not necessary, but agreed that the agenda item had been premature. Metro staff will discuss the proposal with Houston officials before a vote is rescheduled, he said.

Wolff said the property, now owned by the Texas Department of Transportation and formerly by the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, was considered as a possible route from the northwest area to a planned terminal north of downtown for buses, light rail and commuter trains.

Union Pacific Railroad officials say their tracks, which also run from the northwest area to the terminal site, have too much freight traffic to be shared with Metro.

The MKT route runs along Hempstead Highway to the former Eureka freight yard, then east along Seventh Street, angling toward downtown after crossing Heights Boulevard.

The city’s planned MKT-SP Rails to Trails Bikeway would follow generally the same route out of downtown, but would turn north at Nicholson and continue to 26th Street.

Andy Icken, a deputy director of the city’s Public Works and Engineering Department, said the bikeway plans have been “long developing” and that construction could begin and be completed in 2008.

Icken said the city plans to buy the right of way from TxDOT, which would obtain federal funds to build the trail the city would maintain. The land price is being negotiated, he said.

Icken said he does not know if the right of way is wide enough to be shared safely with commuter rail. Metro has not spoken to the city about its plans, he said.

In other business, the board approved negotiating with NewQuest Properties to develop a 600-space Pearland Park & Ride lot near Texas 288 and FM 518.

This would be the second Park & Ride outside Metro’s sales tax area. The agency recently said it would provide downtown bus service from San Jacinto Mall in Baytown under a Harris County contract.