IN A MARKED reversal of its policy adopted in June 2005, the board of Houston's Metropolitan Transit Authority voted on October 18 to adopt light rail for all five corridors in the city's $1·3bn Metro Solutions expansion programme.
It had previously been decided that an all-rail plan would be too costly, so only the University Line was to be built as light rail. The North, Southeast, East End and Uptown routes totalling about 32 km, were to be constructed as bus rapid transit, on dedicated rights-of-way but with rails buried in the roadway for subsequent conversion when ridership would justify it. That decision met with strong protests from community groups and elected officials.
Metro President & CEO Frank Wilson told the board meeting that the Federal Transit Administration had changed its evaluation criteria for federal grants expected to cover half the capital cost. FTA will now consider 'rail bias' - based on evidence that potential riders are more attracted by light rail than bus options - and examine all five lines as part of a co-ordinated system, as it did with light rail expansion in Salt Lake City.
The board approved a compromise route for the 16·1 km University Line, which will run east-west from the Hillcroft Transit Center to the University of Houston campus, crossing the existing Main Street line at Richmond. MTA hopes to complete all five Metro Solutions corridors by 2012.