This is going to really help serve the over one million people who live in the Southeast Houston area. It will connect Houston's expanding light rail service with Galveston's trolley/bus service. Can't wait to see it happen.
Study calls Galveston-Houston rail line a must-do
By HARVEY RICE
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
GALVESTON — A commuter rail line connecting Galveston to downtown Houston is economical, will reduce air pollution, ease traffic congestion and provide an evacuation route if a hurricane threatens, according to a 14-month study released Wednesday.
The Galveston-Houston Commuter Rail Study estimates it would cost between $380 million to $415 million to revive commuter service on the 140-year-old Galveston-Houston and Henderson rail corridor that parallels Interstate 45.
That's a bargain compared with the estimated $2.2 billion cost of a two-way bus lane carrying the same number of passengers, according to the study.
"If people ask if we can do it, I say it's impossible for us not to do it," said Barry Goodman, whose Goodman Corp. conducted the study.
Goodman, who is scheduled to present the study today to the Galveston City Council, said, "If we fail to take advantage of a system that is as cost-effective as this, then we have truly dropped the ball."
The $350,000 study financed by the city of Galveston says that the 45-mile rail corridor is among the most underused in the region and that upgrading it would improve its freight capacity as well as easing traffic congestion in a rapidly growing section of the Houston metropolitan area.
A commuter rail line would carry about 11,480 passengers per year when it is completed in 2030, reducing travel by vehicles by 51.7 million miles per year, the study says. That translates into a 509-ton annual reduction in air pollution, the study says.
Development would flourish along the rail line, increasing property and sales tax values by an estimated $131 million within 1,500 feet of transit stations, the report says.
If a hurricane threatened, the commuter rail could move 6,900 evacuees as far as Austin several times a day, the study says.
The price of a ticket hasn't been determined, but Carl Sharpe, vice president of planning and development for Goodman Corp., said the average nationwide is $4.10 for a one-way ticket. Sharpe said the price is about the same or less than comparable prices for bus transportation, like The Woodlands Express that carries commuters from The Woodlands to downtown Houston round trip for $8.25.
The study offers two choices for the first phase of the commuter rail line, which is projected to begin operations in 2012 with trains traveling as fast as 79 mph.
One choice would connect Clear Lake with Galveston, hauling an estimated 1,263 passengers daily. The other would connect Dickinson with downtown Houston, carrying about 2,970 passengers daily, according to the study.
Goodman said the Clear Lake-to-Galveston section would likely end at the University of Texas Medical Branch during rush hours and at the Galveston Railroad Museum, housed in the former Galveston rail passenger terminal, during off-peak hours. A station also could be built to serve the cruise terminal, he said.
Cruise ship passengers would cross to the cruise line terminal in a covered walkway from a rail stop surrounded by restaurants and retail shops, according to one possible scenario, Goodman said.
The Dickinson to downtown Houston alternative could end at a Metro transportation hub that is being considered in the vicinity of Harrisburg Boulevard and Magnolia Park, or continue up the I-45 corridor and end at a transportation hub downtown at Congress Yard, Sharpe said.
The route down I-45 would cost about $25 million more because of greater engineering challenges such as grade crossings, Goodman said.
Goodman said completion of the rail line was a political question, but reaction so far has been favorable. "I think there is a lot of support, growing support, for this," he said.
Galveston City Manager Steve LeBlanc said there is strong political support in his city. "There is total backing for this," he said. LeBlanc said the city has had conversations with Galveston County officials and other cities along the proposed route through the Houston-Galveston Area Council. "They have all been supportive," he said.
Metro spokeswoman Raequel Roberts said that the commuter rail line fits the transportation blueprint. "We already have a Galveston line on the boards and we are looking at other lines," Roberts said.
The next phase will be gathering information needed to persuade the federal government to contribute 50 percent of the cost, Goodman said. The phase, known as the alternative analysis, must show that the commuter line is the most efficient and economical way to solve transportation problems on the I-45 corridor.
Goodman estimates the phase will take about eight months to complete and will include public meetings to assess popular support.
If the project passes federal muster, the decision will be made on whether to begin designing and building the railway, he said.