The University Line DEIS, illustrated, part 1

Deis

On Friday, METRO released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the University Line. This is what we’ve been waiting for for a year and a half: two thick books (or some big PDF files) of data, outlining the options for the project and the benefits and impacts of each.

There’s a lot of stuff in there, and it takes some time to get through it. Today’s post is a summary: my attempt to distill a long document into a shorter, easier to follow version. Today, I’ll cover the options west of Main Street; soon I’ll do the same for the options east of Main.

The bottom line remains unchanged from January. There are three light rail alignment options: Richmond-Cummins-Westpark, Richmond-Greenway-Westpark, and Richmond-Montrose-59-Kirby-Westpark. The Cummins option has the highest ridership (25% more than 59) and the lowest cost (15% less than 59). All options have some traffic impacts and require some property takings. Everything I’ve written about how the options benefit and affect the neighborhoods along the way still holds.

Alignment

There are four options on the table: 3 different light rail routes and a “no build” option. There are also Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) versions of the build options and an improved local bus option. The three rail options are the same we saw in January. All include some section of Richmond at the east end, and all are alongside Westpark from Weslayan to the Hillcroft Transit Center. The “Cummins” option stays on Richmond through Neartown, Upper Kirby, and Greenway Plaza as far as Cummins, where it crosses 59 on an overpass. The “Greenway”option crosses over slightly earlier, just west of Buffalo Speedway, with an elevated station in Greenway Plaza. The “59″ option leaves Richmond at Montrose, runs elevated above the north edge of the Southwest Freeway trench, runs elevated above the 59 southbound frontage road to just east of Kirby, crosses the freeway, and then enters the Westpark right of way.

The Cummins option would have 11 stations, including the Main Street transfer at Wheeler; The Greenway option would have 10, with one station fewer in Greenway Plaza. The 59 option would have only 7, with no stations at Dunlavy, Kirby, Buffalo Speedway, or Weslayan. Four of those stations — Hillcroft, South Rice, Newcastle, and Hillcroft — would have park-and-ride lots, with a total of 3,750 spaces.

All three options include a train maintenance facility at either South Rice or Hillcroft.

The cost differences between the options come down to how much elevated construction they involve. The Cummins option would cost $534 million; the Greenway option would cost $567 million, and the 59 option would cost $617 million.

Cummins Ali001

Greenway Al001

59 Alignmen001-1

Service

All three options would have the same kind of service we have on the Main Street Line: trains from 4:00 in the morning to 1:00 in the morning, every 6 minutes during most of the day, every 12 minutes in the evening and on weekends, and every 15 minutes late at night. All three options would connect to the existing Main Street Line at Wheeler Station and the Uptown Line (which is also planned to open by 2012) at South Rice. The DEIS does not include any through service between the lines: transfers would be required at both locations.

Interestingly, travel time does not vary much between the three options. From Hillcroft to South Rice would take 6 minutes; from South Rice to Main Street would take 18 minutes with the Cummins option, 19 minutes with the Greenway option, or 16 minutes with the 59 option. That’s an average speed (including stops) of 15 to 19 mph. Greenway Plaza to Main Street would take 10 to 12 minutes.

Cummins Service Small

Greenway Service Small

59 Service Small

Ridership

The ridership analysis in the DEIS is considerably more detailed than what we saw in January. It considers different combinations of options east and west of Main, includes transfers from the Uptown and Southeast lines, and breaks boardings down by type.

This is where the most dramatic differences between the alignments are: paired with most productive option east of Main (Wheeler-Ennis-Elgin), the Cummins option has 43,590 daily boardings, the Greenway option has 43,390, and the 59 option has 31,920. That’s a 25% difference, and it comes from putting stations in walkable places: fully 60% of the difference between the two options comes from people walking to stations rather than taking a bus or a car.

Overall, about 41% of boardings would come from people walking to stations, 45% from transfers (about half of those from local bus and half from other LRT and BRT lines), and 14% from driving to stations. A quarter of trips would be new transit riders. Some existing transit riders would get significant benefits: a trip from UH to Hillcroft, for example, would take 32 minutes by train instead of 75 minutes by bus.

Cummins Rid002

Greenway Ri001

59 Ridershi001

Traffic impacts

Traffic will get a lot worse in this corridor whether we build transit or not. Under the “no build” option, the projection is that traffic on Richmond will increase from 32,100 vehicles today to 44,500 in 2030. Traffic engineers measure street performance by “level of service,” with A being free-flowing and F extremely congested. If we don’t build rail by 2030, every intersection along Richmond or Westpark is expected to be at level “E” or “F” by 2030. Adding rail would make some of those intersections marginally worse and some marginally better. North-south traffic would benefit from the addition of more signalized intersections on Richmond.

Notably, the 59 option does not have fewer traffic impacts than the two options that use Richmond to Greenway Plaza. In fact, it may be worse. Accommodating the columns for the aerial structure would require taking one lane away from the 59 southbound frontage road between Shepherd and Kirby and taking the outside shoulder from southbound 59 between Shepherd and Spur 527. The latter would slow down rush hour traffic because people don’t drive as fast next to a barrier. It would also prevent disabled cars from pulling over, snarling traffic further. A letter from the Texas Department of Transportation, included as an appendix to the DEIS, notes that this would result in 59 no longer meeting safety standards and calls the 59 option “unacceptable.”

All alternatives would have traffic impacts during construction. The 59 option would require closing one lane for the duration of construction and additional lanes intermittently.

Nobuild Traffic Small

Cummins Tra001

Greenway Tr001

59 Traffic002

Noise and vibration impacts

The DEIS provides the first information we’ve had on noise and vibration impacts. Noise and vibration is relative — a train that is loud in a quiet residential neighborhood isn’t loud in the middle of a busy street. West of Main, the proposed routes are primarily in already busy corridors, so they wouldn’t increase the existing noise levels. The 59 option does run alongside — above — neighborhoods, though, so it would impact 5 homes.

Cummins Noi001

Greenway No001

59 Noise001

Property required

All of the build options require the taking of some private property. In each case, land would be needed where the transition from Richmond to Westpark happens. Along Richmond, the takings are at station locations east of Kirby. West of Kirby, the street is wide enough; east of Kirby, it’s wide enough except at stations. Overall, about a quarter of the properties along Richmond between Kirby and Main are affected, and most would lose only a small strip of parking lot or landscaping. The 59 option would require some takings along the Southwest Freeway frontage road. The options affect between 31 and 46 properties.

Where complete properties — or significant portions of properties — would be required people and business would lose their homes: between 12 and 13 businesses and between 13 and 24 residential units. This is significant in comparision to the Main Street line, which required almost no relocations. But it’s paltry compared to other transportation projects: the proposed plan for the US-290 expansion displaces 100 houses, 300 apartment units, 2 churches, and 100 businesses.

All of these results are based on keeping Richmond at two 10 foot traffic lanes in each direction, with 6 foot sidewalks. Should the city ask for wider lanes or sidewalks, more property would be needed.

Cummins Tak001

Greenway Ta001

59 Takings001

Other impacts

The DEIS finds no flooding impacts for any of the options.

No wildlife habitats or endangered species would be affected.

None of the options west of Main would require the demolition of any historically significant buildings. The 59 option would be close to one historic house (the Terling-Berry House on Yoakum) is such a way that it would diminish its historical setting.

None of the options would involve permanent impacts to parkland.

Commenting

Metro is planning 2 open houses and a hearing so the public can ask questions about the project and make comments. Comments will also be accepted in writing through September 15.

What: Public Meeting / Open House

Date: Monday, August 13, 2007

Time: 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Location: Holiday Inn Select – Greenway Plaza

Address: 2712 S.W. Freeway

What: Public Meeting / Open House

Date: Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Time: 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Location: Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church

Address: 3826 Wheeler Avenue

What: Public Hearing and Open House

Date: Monday, August 27, 2007

Time: Open House, 1 p.m. – 2 p.m.

Public Hearing begins at 2 p.m.

Location: South Main Baptist Church

Address: 4100 Main Street

I have some questions myself — the travel times seem a bit high based on what I’ve seen in other cities, the ridership model results for Greenway East on the Cummins option seem off, and I’d like to hear more about how they’ll deal with intersections on Westpark.

Leave your unofficial comments in our forums.

(8/7/07: correction on portion of properties along Richmond affected, bolded)

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