Introducing the squiggle

The deal for the new soccer stadium appears to be coming together. But one fundamental problem remains: the stadium, as planned, will be a significant obstacle to traffic between Downtown and the East End. But there’s a way to fix that.

If you’re headed west on Harrisburg towards Downtown today, the street ends at Bastrop. There, you make a left turn, drive two blocks, and make a right on Capitol, the only westbound street that makes it between Minute Maid Park and the George R. Brown Convention Center. That’s no ideal, but you do get Downtown reasonably quickly.

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The soccer stadium, though, messes that up. Both Bastrop and Capitol get torn out to build the stadium. There is no longer a westbound through street between Minute Maid and George R. Brown. So now you make a left on Dowling, a right on Walker, a right on Chartres, and a left on Capitol. You trip just got 4 blocks longer thanks to the soccer stadium.

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The soccer stadium also messed up the combined Southeast and East End light rail line, which was supposed to be on Capitol and Rusk. That’s been fixed by moving it to Texas. But that creates a new set of problems. To get from Capitol alongside the stadium back to Capitol and Rusk Downtown, the light rail tracks have to cut diagonally across three blocks. That creates several intersections where light rail crosses a street on the diagonal. That’s always a problem: it’s what makes the Wheeler area problematic today. METRO will be improving Wheeler in 2012, but, thanks to the soccer stadium, they’ll be replicating the problem on Capitol and Rusk.

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So we have two problems: the soccer stadium makes it much more difficult for people from the East End to get Downtown, and it reroutes the light rail line in a way that creates a series of awkward intersections.

Fortunately, there’s a way to fix both of those problems. In fact, it results in traffic flow that’s better than what we have today. There are two parts to this idea. The first is to make Texas alongside the stadium a two-way street. Instead of two eastbound traffic lanes and two light rail tracks, Texas gets two eastbound traffic lanes, two westbound traffic lanes, and two light rail tracks. That all fits in the existing right of way. The second part is to use the “squiggle” in the light rail tracks for traffic lanes as well. This does two things: it gives the westbound traffic on Texas a way to go, and it cleans up those messy intersections.

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So now, to get from the East End to Downtown, you simply follow Harrisburg, which flows right into Texas, and then you make a left turn onto Capitol. And you will not hit an awkward intersection or have to cross the rail line to do it.

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Technically, this is not actually a difficult solution. It does no change the light rail alignment. It reduces traffic impacts. It does not require more right of way on Texas, and the right of way it requires in the “squiggle” is right of way that would need to be purchased anyway. The only significant cost involved is some additional pavement, and that’s not much in the scheme of things. That additional cost, incidentally, should not be a METRO obligation: the problem it solves is created not by the rail line but by the soccer stadium.

This is a simple, inexpensive opportunity to take a problem and make it a solution. It would make things better immediately. In the longer term, as the old warehouses of East Downtown and the East End continue to be replaced by townhouses, apartments, and condos, it will be even more important.

Squiggle on over to our forums with your thoughts.

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