The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County is in the early stages of planning a bus rapid transit line that will eventually connect the Westchase area to the Tidwell Transit Center, and officials have high hopes for the project's ability to transform how people travel in the area.

In a July 27 presentation to the Neartown Association, Priya Zachariah, METRO's project manager on the University Corridor project, said the project will allow for a range of trip patterns that are not possible under the existing network. Once complete, the new line would connect a number of existing METRO facilities—including every METRO rail line, the new Uptown rapid transit line and a number of park & ride facilities—while also running through parts of Midtown and Montrose along Richmond Avenue.

“The way that it can transform how people make trips in the region is going to be mind-boggling,” Zachariah said.

The project is part of the METRONext plan, a $7 billion plan to be carried out over the next 20 years with a mix of local funding from a $3.5 billion bond referendum passed in 2019 and federal funds.

The University corridor travels about 25 miles in total. Starting from the Westchase Park & Ride facility on Harwin Drive, the proposed route would head east toward the University of Houston in the Third Ward, at which point it would veer north to a terminus at the Tidwell Transit Center off Hwy. 59.

The project is being broken down into five segments. The METRO presentation at the July 27 meeting focused primarily on Segment 2, which runs from the intersection of Weslayan Street and Westpark Drive near Bellaire to the Wheeler Transit Center on Main Street in Midtown, where riders would also be able to connect to METRO's light rail line.

Zachariah described the BRT concept as "light rail on rubber tires." Buses would run on a dedicated guideway along Richmond Avenue starting from Edloe Street, operating in the median of the street down to the Wheeler Transit Center.

There are seven proposed stations along Segment 2, which are mainly located at major intersections, including Edloe, Kirby Drive, Shepherd Drive and Montrose Boulevard, said Steve Granson, a consultant with the infrastructure and design firm HNTB, which is working with METRO on project. Stations will be similar in design to light rail stations, and METRO will continue to evaluate their placement as ridership studies continue, Granson said.

Steve Longmire, president of the First Montrose Commons Neighborhood Association, pressed METRO on the importance of pedestrian safety at the meeting. He said the area at Montrose Boulevard and Richmond Avenue, where a station is planned, is particularly dangerous for pedestrians.

“With this project, that concern is only raised even higher,” he said. “I’m just begging that when we design these stations, we design proper red hold signals for pedestrians and bright pedestrian crossing signals."

Zachariah said safety and accessibility will be priorities in the station design process. Part of the process in designing Boost corridors involves completing sidewalk networks and other safety and lighting measures, and she said a similar philosophy would be in effect for the BRT project.

The METRO board has identified the University corridor line as a project to accelerate, Granson said, meaning a lot of the planning and design is being advanced in an effort to prepare the project for the federal grant process. The environmental study could kick off later this year or early next year, he said, adding that more updates on the project design will be shared with the public as they become available.

The timeline is still to be determined, but Granson said a high-level projection has construction starting around 2025.

"The project is really taking off, so there's going to be a lot of work that's done over a relatively short period of time over the next couple of years," he said.