METRO currently has plans for a bond election in November 2019 to help facilitate their METRONext 2040 plan, and they are in the process of holding meetings around Harris County to get community feedback on the prospective changes.
METRO held a meeting Jan. 29 at the Kingwood Community Center and at the DoubleTree by Hilton near Bush International Airport Jan. 30.
The METRONext plan estimates that the population of the Houston metro area will increase from 6 million to over 10 million in the next 21 years. While not formally announced, they are likely going to propose a multi-billion dollar bond so that they can enact changes more expeditiously and stay in front of the population growth. METRO is funded primarily through sales tax, and is not asking to increase the tax rate.
The primary additions to the northeast Houston corridor would come in the form of two-way HOV/HOT lanes on Highway 59 to the Kingwood Drive exit and new bus rapid transit (BRT) service from IAH to downtown. Two-way HOV lanes would provide a permanent lane in each direction, instead of the current system of a single lane that changes direction depending on the flow of traffic. According to Houston Transtar historical data, reverse commuters see roughly two minutes of delay during peak hours versus 12 minutes of delay for traditional commuters. Two-way HOV lanes would guarantee a quick return of Park and Ride buses to run other routes and provide an alternative for reverse commuters as the northeast Houston region continues to gain in population.
The BRT line to IAH would potentially replace the existing 102 service to downtown Houston. The majority of the route is on the highway, so instead of building dedicated lanes, it would utilize mostly the added two-way HOV lanes, but on Interstate 45, not on Highway 59. The projected IAH BRT cost is $245 million and include four stops on the route: IAH, Greenspoint Transit Center, North Shepherd Park and Ride, and a to-be-determined termination point in downtown Houston. By adding a faster and more comfortable connection to downtown, fewer vehicles would be utilizing Highway 59.
The BRT system planned by METRO would be a train-style system with new stations being constructed with at-grade entry onto the buses and dedicated on-street lanes. METRO currently has their first BRT line under construction on Post Oak Drive in the Uptown/Galleria area and it is expected to be completed near the end of 2019.
Additional plans for new Metro service in the area would be a local bus line from the Townsen Park and Ride to the airport, and the possible addition of Community Connector service in Kingwood and/or Atascocita. METRO Community Connector service uses vans that are akin to a parking lot shuttle van, which would provide flexible transit needs in areas where dedicated bus service utilization would be too low. METRO currently operates Community Connector service in Acres Homes and in Missouri City. They provide hybrid transit service that operates from anchor points in the community (such as a shopping area or mall) or provides pickup from the passenger’s front door based on availability. Passengers would then be able to choose a destination from within the defined Community Connector zone. A hypothetical example would be that a passenger would like to go to IAH: they could take a Community Connector to the Townsen Park and Ride and then take the newly schedule regular bus service to the airport. Community Connector buses are handicap accessible and currently are charged at the normal bus fare of $1.25.
For more information on METRONext plans, visit metronext.org.