The University of Houston and Texas Southern University are looking forward to the benefits they expect to reap once the schools are connected by light rail, according to The Houston Chronicle:
Sometime soon, Metro’s Southeast light rail line could be ferrying thousands of people to and from the University of Houston and Texas Southern University. Stations near the campuses may become hubs of restaurants, shops and new residential construction.
At least, that’s the vision for the light rail expansion, which is scheduled to be completed in 2014.
Proponents say connecting the universities to the light rail network will boost the allure of schools and city alike.
“The attractiveness of the universities is tied to the attractiveness of Houston,” said David Wolff, who chaired the Metropolitan Transit Authority board when plans for the new line were developed. “Having a good transit system will make the schools stronger and more attractive.”
UH and Metro, however, have not resolved issues involving university property the transit agency will need to complete the rail line. And for now, the project is little more than poured concrete and orange construction barrels that snarl traffic and slow down students hoofing it to class.
“It’s been going on forever and ever,” said Carlos Rodriguez, 25, a graduate student in modern languages. “I would like to see it done before I graduate.”
Plans call for the Southeast line to have three stations serving the TSU and UH areas: UH South/University Oaks, Robertson Stadium/UH/TSU and Elgin/Third Ward. According to projections from Metro, those stations would have 4,500 boardings a day in 2030.
Wolff said student riders tend to use mass transit throughout the day, not just at peak hours.
“As we traveled around the world, we saw that universities are major users of light rail and mass transit,” said Wolff, who recalled seeing throngs of students spilling onto a station in France.
The light rail would also provide easy access for students commuting to jobs or internships, going to downtown restaurants, theaters or clubs, and catching games at Minute Maid Park or the BBVA Compass Stadium, where TSU football will be played, said Wolff.
“The impact will be tremendous,” said Wolff.
‘A real positive’
Universities in other cities have experienced a boon from transit system expansions, according to a fact sheet put together by Houston Tomorrow, a nonprofit research group that supports light rail expansion. Among the paper’s findings:
The San Diego State University president credited a campus trolley stop with creating a community campus and decreasing isolation. At Portland State University, where a light rail line runs through campus, 38 percent of students use public transit. The University of Utah, despite rapid growth, was able to add classrooms on parking lots because light rail cut back on the need for parking spaces.
“The Southeast line is going to be a real positive,” said James Douglas, executive vice president at TSU, where about half the students live off-campus. “It’s going to make it much easier to get to TSU, and not have the hassle of driving in the morning and afternoon during rush hours.”
Voters approved the plan to expand the rail network in 2003, and $900 million in federal grants was approved for two light rail lines in November.
UH students are scrambling across the unfinished tracks that separate parking lots from the campus, and waiting for light rail service to start.
“It’s right here. I plan on using it,” said Zariah Payne, a retail and consumer science major who will graduate in 2015. “I’d rather use that than the bus. Besides, it will make the neighborhood a lot nicer.”
UH officials would not comment about the light rail beyond a written statement noting that Dr. Renu Khator, UH president and chancellor, is negotiating with Metro about right of way on campus.
“As a state agency, Metro has the right to take a large amount of land away from the University of Houston for its light rail expansion project,” the statement said. “Needless to say, this will have a significant impact on the university. However, the chancellor’s number one principle is that while Metro has the right to take the land, UH has the right to be made whole. It would be inappropriate to discuss any further details while the negotiations are taking place.”
Metro officials would only say the agency “is not involved in a dispute about property as regards this alignment and UH. Metro is continuing discussions with the UH administrators to make sure the light rail alignment is the most efficient and productive it can be.”