TX: Council Set to Approve Metro Rail Line Overpass Funds

July 30--The City Council is set to decide Wednesday whether to give Metro $10 million to accommodate traffic as well as trains on a controversial overpass the transit agency plans to build along its Green Line light rail route.

The council delayed action on the matter for 30 days last month at Mayor Annise Parker's suggestion when Councilman Robert Gallegos raised concerns. Gallegos and some other neighborhood leaders long have lobbied against an overpass and sought more time to confirm Metro's claims that worse-than-expected soil contamination would prevent a previously planned underpass where freight tracks cross the path of the Green Line along Harrisburg.

After months of delay when the environmental concerns were discovered, the extra 30 days caused consternation for some neighborhood leaders, and for Metro officials.

Metro board chairman Gilbert Garcia fired off a letter saying the council's delay had forced him "to reverse course and to proceed with a plain rail-only overpass." This week, however, Garcia said those thoughts were premature.

"Looking back in time, we all could have communicated better. And I really think any miscommunication is really a result of everybody trying to do the right thing," he said. "We're going to look back and I think we're all going to be very proud of this project, so I think some of the angst today will be a distant memory when the line is successful and businesses are thriving."

Frustrated by delays

Harrisburg business owner Julio del Carpio said the area is not thriving, and some businesses are going under. Del Carpio said he is frustrated with the months of delay the overpass-underpass fight has caused, particularly the 30-day delay sought by Gallegos. Work must begin quickly, he said.

"We're the ones that are really affected," del Carpio said, referring to business owners. "The rail was supposed to be completed for two years and two years and ... now they're extending it another three years. No business would survive having to face construction for five years in a row."

Del Carpio said he supported the underpass initially, but shifted views when Metro found that option untenable. The new overpass design is less intrusive than its original form years ago, at four lanes rather than six.

Second Ward activist Jessica Castillo-Hulsey said her community always has sought an overpass. She said neighbors are confused at the delays and await City Council's approval.

"We don't want to be blocked anymore with the freight trains," Castillo-Hulsey said. "It's horrible, the waiting time. It will help tremendously."

Gallegos said he understands some community members are frustrated with the delay, but the 30 days were key to evaluating Metro's environmental claims and reviewing the project's design.

Garcia, however, said the project needs to move forward quickly.

Plans estimate the work will be done in 32 months, but Garcia said he hopes to finish sooner than that.

The overpass is the last piece of Metro's $587 million Green Line light rail route along Harrisburg between downtown and the Magnolia Park Transit Center, part of which is scheduled to open later this year.

Gallegos and Garcia said they expect City Council to approve the payment Wednesday.

"To be honest with you, I'm not going to say that I'm jumping up with joy that it's going to be an overpass," Gallegos said. "But now as a City Council member it's my responsibility to make sure we do something that will be pleasing to the eye and won't be intrusive."

Copyright 2014 - Houston Chronicle

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