I saw this and thought it was interesting. Was wondering what the BBSers thought about it.
Metro eyes ups, downs of subway
By LUCAS WALL
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle
Metro unveiled its plans Wednesday for what could be Houston's first subway, an idea starting to generate excitement for some but serious doubts among others.
Transit planners presented two options for the downtown segment of the seven-mile Southeast light rail line to about 70 people attending a meeting at Drexler's World Famous Bar-B-Que & Grill in East Downtown.
The leading contender would place the tracks in a tunnel under Walker Street from roughly Dowling Street to City Hall. The other possibility is laying the rails on Capitol Street. In either case, the rest of the line is currently envisioned to run at grade similar to the existing Main Street light rail.
"At first blush, when you look at it, a subway seems to be an `are you kidding me?' type of thing," said Robert Eury, director of the Houston Downtown Management District. "But the truth of the matter is, why would we not look at such a thing if it makes the most sense?"
The Metropolitan Transit Authority has not finished cost estimates for the two options. While a subway would likely be significantly more pricey than a surface route, proponents cite numerous reasons for making the investment.
In a dedicated tunnel, trains could travel much faster and would have zero risk of colliding with automobiles -- a major problem on the current line that opened Jan. 1. There would be no disruption of automobile traffic if the line runs underground, and passengers transferring between lines would have an easy connection to the existing light rail platforms at Main Street Square.
Another factor lending support to a subway: Businesses fear the impact of another lengthy street project. Many along Main Street were forced to close as patronage plummeted during three years of construction on the first line. Tunneling would likely involve fewer street impacts.
Steve Pittman, spokesman for the East Downtown Management District, said his neighborhood is excited about the prospect of a subway station east of U.S. 59 before the rail line would pop up to the surface near Dowling and continue southeast on Scott Street past the University of Houston to South Wayside at Loop 610.
"Our position is that the rail line remain underground until they get to approximately Dowling," Pittman said. "A subway would blend with our master plan better than a surface alignment."
Some downtown interests are particularly excited about the prospect of a subway connected to the four-mile pedestrian tunnel system that links numerous office buildings housing tens of thousands of workers. Under such a scenario, a rider getting off a train at the Main Street Square subway station could reach dozens of buildings without ever having to face a downpour or scorching summer day.
"Think about it," Eury said. "You could walk much farther than you would be willing to walk on the street to get over to the station."
The subway also would likely include a stop under the George R. Brown Convention Center, and perhaps also at City Hall. It could later be extended west under Buffalo Bayou and surface onto Washington Avenue, where a long-term plan envisions a rail line west toward the Galleria.
Critics, however, are blasting the subway plan as "lunacy." The Business Committee Against Rail, which handed out fliers at the meeting in opposition to MetroRail expansion, warns that a downtown subway would be prohibitively expensive and could end up flooding like some downtown parking garages and tunnels during Tropical Storm Allison three years ago. Some other attendees were overheard voicing concerns to Metro consultants about the flood danger.
Metro and its supporters counter it is a myth that a subway can't be built in Houston because the city is so flood prone. They point to downtown's extensive system of underground walkways, utility tunnels, and parking garages, noting only a few portions flooded during Allison, and lessons have been learned on how to better engineer subsurface infrastructure. Backers also point out there is an interterminal underground people-mover at Bush Intercontinental Airport.
John Sedlak, Metro's executive vice president, said planners have examined nearly a dozen routes for the rails to travel east-west across downtown. A consensus developed that the line needs to be grade separated and travel through the center of downtown, he said. Also, he said, "we have heard reluctance for elevated structures."
Those comments reduced the options to the two presented Wednesday.
"We've been looking at a wide range of streets," Sedlak said. "The intent is by the end of the year we need to reduce that to one."
Sedlak acknowledged there would be enormous challenges to building a subway, but said the surface option also presents numerous difficulties.
Construction on whatever alignment is chosen should begin in 2007.