METRO Houston held a board meeting on Thursday, May 23, and the biggest surprise was the addition of light rail along the Washington corridor.
The green and purple lines currently terminate in the theater district, and Washington Ave would be the natural extension. METRO is planning on bringing a bond election before voters in November, so this feels a little late in the planning process to be making changes this significant.
I think this extension is a very logical move as there are already a large number of apartment complexes and townhome communities along the corridor. Property values in the region have been steadily growing, so there are several commercial facilities that developers may eye to convert to mixed-use developments.
The Sunbeam Bread bakery represents 6.05 acres of land along Washington Ave, with the edge of the land being as close as 100′ to a newly proposed light rail station. It’s property valuation has jumped from $2.85 million in 2015 to $3.64 million in 2018 to $6.57 million in 2019. That’s a 72% increase in valuation from last year and represents an additional $66,507 in property taxes to be paid by the owner. The bread factory certainly makes the neighborhood smell nice, but one would think that bread doesn’t need to be baked just 1.3 miles from the Hobby Center.
The same goes for Rose Metal Processing, a scrapyard across the street one block north of Sunbeam Bread. Their 1.58 acres was only assessed at $578,000 for 2019 and would also be ripe for redevelopment. The two blocks between Washington Ave and the railroad tracks to the north are full of warehouses and would all be potentially desirable to convert to a neighborhood.
The other large change to the METRONext plan that was talked about at the previous meeting: consolidating the extensions to Hobby to a single line as they approach the airport.
Four options were presented to the board, but I believe the version I’ve attached above to be the primary choice, as it utilizes Telephone road instead of Broadway. Broadway St is the natural choice due to a dense population, but it was recently rebuilt for the hosting of the Super Bowl in 2017, and officials have expressed great reluctance to rip recently completed work up to start again.
Also featured is a “Hobby Car Rental” stop which appears to be set at a currently undeveloped piece of land and near existing car rental facilities. Currently, Hobby uses shuttles owned and operated by each individual car rental company to ferry customers, whereas IAH uses a unified car rental facility with a unified bus service that is funded by a tax levied on car rentals.
Two additional alternatives were presented, but both appear extremely undesirable due to an awkward layout. While out of town traveler usage is easy to sell to taxpayers, a connection through the Gulfgate shopping center should be a priority. It would allow locals access to a wide variety of stores such as H-E-B, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Office Depot, Home Depot, Best Buy, Marshall’s, and more than a dozen restaurants. Local traffic should be a key to the success of this project.
The estimated cost for the primary choice to Hobby, with a stop in Gulfgate, would cost $1.06 billion and allow transit riders to get to downtown Houston in as little as 38 minutes. This is a drive that takes as little as 16 minutes with no traffic, or as much as 40 minutes or more during rush hour.
Currently existing bus service is available without a transfer and takes roughly 45 minutes. The METRO board needs to finalize their plans in July to present it before voters in November for a bond election.