Heights-area residents give feedback on rapid bus route coming to I-10

Residents in neighborhoods around the Heights, Lazybrook and Timbergrove got a chance to learn about and give feedback on a bus rapid transit route in the early planning stages that will run along a segment of I-10 in Houston's inner loop.

A virtual presentation was given April 27 by the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, which is implementing the project. The meeting was jointly hosted by METRO and super neighborhoods 22, 14 and 15, which cover the neighborhoods north and south of I-10 where the project will run.

METRO President and CEO Tom Lambert said getting input from super neighborhoods was crucial to doing the project right.

“We want to make sure as we look to this project, it's the right thing for this community; it's the right thing for this region,” he said.

The initial phase of the project—known as the METRORapid Inner Katy Project—involves developing a high-capacity bus rapid transit line from the Northwest Transit Center in uptown to downtown Houston, including the Theater District, Central Station and Convention District. The tie to the Northwest Transit Center means the project is poised to benefit residents who use METRO Park & Ride stations and transit centers in northwest and west Houston as well, said Amma Cobbinah, a senior transportation planner with METRO.

"Although this Inner Katy project is only 7 miles long, the benefits of this project extend way beyond those 7 miles," she sad.

METRO's bus rapid transit routes differ from typical bus routes in that corridors are reserved specifically for buses to make trips at higher speeds with fewer stops and bus-friendly traffic lights. METRO describes the service as a kind of hybrid between bus and rail transit.

Portions of the project will be elevated, Cobbinah said. A project rendering could be ready to share within the next few months, she said. As a part of the project, bus rapid transit stations have been proposed along I-10 at Shepherd Drive/Durham Drive and at Studemont Street.

The project is still early in the planning stages, and many details are to be determined, Cobbinah said. A general alignment has been set, but it is still unclear exactly what properties may be affected and how close the project could get to homes.

However, the project is not expected to have a significant effect on properties along the corridor since it largely falls in the existing right of way for the Texas Department of Transportation, Cobbinah said. A more detailed alignment is expected to be ready for public review within the year, Cobbinah said, adding that she hopes an environmental impact statement will be ready around the end of the year as well.

Several residents at the meeting expressed concerns about noise levels, of which Cobbinah said METRO was keenly aware.

"Overall, the effect of noise as a result of this project is expected to be very minimal," she said. "A noise analysis will be conducted during the environmental phase of the project in accordance with federal guidelines. Noise mitigation will be provided if significant noise impacts are forecasted."

Another question yet to be answered relates to TxDOT's North Houston Highway Improvement Project, a controversial project that involves, in part, rerouting I-45 away from Midtown and through the East End while expanding it through much of the Northside. If that project proceeds, an existing ramp connecting downtown to I-10 would be demolished. Cobbinah said METRO is in communications with TxDOT on what the effects could end up being on the Inner Katy BRT.

"Once that is clear, we can communicate that back to the group," she said.

TxDOT is also studying the area as a part of a project that involves building managed lanes to supplement the freeway. The METRO project is a bit ahead of the TxDOT one, Cobbinah said, with METRO moving forward with the planning phase as TxDOT's project remains unfunded. Part of the coordination involves determining where to put the elevated path, she said.

"We're trying to coordinate on where it will be most feasible for us to be dedicated and exclusive," Cobbinah said. "As we go through operational scenarios, this is something we must look into."

Ian Fortney, who attended the meeting on behalf of the Cottage Grove Civic Association, said the association is supportive of the overall Katy bus rapid transit proposal but would rather see a station placed at TC Jester Boulevard.

Fortney said he believes a station at TC Jester would provide more of an opportunity to reach residents who are within walking distance and could safely access the station. He also pointed to an existing pedestrian bridge at I-10 and TC Jester that would allow residents to access the station from the other side of the highway.

"Shepherd and Studemont are both busy, hazardous streets, and there aren’t many residents within walking distance," Fortney said in an email. "[At TC Jester] you have dense neighborhoods directly north and south of I-10. We’ve done some rough estimates and believe there are 8,000 residents within a 10-minute, half-mile walk of that location."

At the meeting, Cobbinah said METRO will consider other station possibilities.

The project is being funded through a $3.5 billion bond referendum passed by Harris County voters in 2019. After the bond passed, the Inner Katy project was identified as one of the top priorities to get started on.

More information can be found at www.ridemetro.org/innerkaty. Questions and comments on the project can be sent to [email protected].
By Shawn Arrajj
Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.