UH Community Raises Concerns at Campus Metro Meeting

February 4, 2010

METRO’s light rail has the potential to benefit the University of Houston in many ways. It can ease commuting and parking problems, transport audiences to UH events and better connect the university to the Houston community.

While faculty, staff and students are excited by the prospects of light rail on campus, they also shared concerns. These were apparent during a recent METRO forum conducted at UH.

Presented by UH’s Faculty Senate, Staff Council and Student Government Association, this meeting attracted a full house to the Rockwell Pavilion. At the event’s onset, METRO officials offered an overview of the two routes – the Southeast and University Corridors – that would connect UH with the East End and the Galleria area.

The Southeast Corridor already is being constructed and will run from downtown at Smith Street to Palm Center on Griggs Road. This route will consist of six miles of rail that connects 10 stations including stops at Scott Street and Elgin Street, Scott Street and Cleburne Street and Wheeler Avenue and Calhoun Road.

The proposed University Corridor route will run from the Hillcroft Transit Center in west Houston through Richmond Avenue. It will continue to Alabama Street and ultimately connect with Texas Southern University and UH (as currently designed at Scott and Cleburne). It includes 19 stations with 11 miles of rail.

Following METRO’s presentation, Mark Clarke, UH Faculty Senate president and associate professor of Health and Human Performance, cited the UH community’s chief concerns with both of these routes.

Clarke said the proposed locations of the stations near campus aren’t particularly convenient for the campus community or visitors. He specifically cited the Cleburne station as one that would not effectively serve the university community.

“It is located at a site that does not provide access to the main areas of campus. It also is an area that is not heavily populated. From our perspective, it would make sense to locate those stations in areas of campus where the most people work and attend class,” he said.

Clarke also voiced apprehension regarding the Southeast Corridor’s route on Scott Street. He indicated that the rail would encroach on university property, the athletics practice fields.

The University Corridor’s tail on Scott Street also poses questions for the campus community, Clarke said. According to the planned route, this route would end just past the Cleburne station on Scott. Clarke pointed out that this tail would infringe on existing university parking areas and could present access problems for students residing in Cambridge Oaks, Cullen Oaks and Cougar Place.

Access areas on Wheeler Avenue also are a concern, he said. With Moody Towers and the new undergraduate housing located on that street, the rail could impede traffic along that street.

Clarke added that the Southeast Corridor might be problematic for the campus because of its close proximity to the university’s childcare center and because it also would cut into existing parking areas, as well as the UH Department of Public Safety station.

During the forum, Dan Wells, professor of biology and past president of Faculty Senate, also expressed concern, as well as his disappointment in METRO’s presentation.

“We’re very glad you’re here, and we want light rail here, but the presentation was very disappointing,” he said. “It gave us a 50,000-foot view. We have concerns about the details. You seem to be ignoring the details.”

Other concerns voiced by the faculty, staff and students in attendance included increased traffic during the rail’s construction and safety issues faced by students with disabilities, particularly along Wheeler Avenue.

“Because this is a federally funded project, it must meet all requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Kimberly Williams, METRO’s associate vice president of corporate programs. “We are also working with the city of Houston to accommodate safety crossings in that area.”

With regard to the construction of the rail lines, Williams said that METRO has learned many lessons from the construction of the city’s first light rail line. There will be inconveniences, but construction will be conducted in strategic phases to alleviate traffic problems.

Construction, she said, also will be planned around UH’s academic schedule to make sure it is rendered during periods when less students are on campus.

“We have to work together,” she said. “I hope that you bear with us. It will be a considerable amount of work, and we’re going to work with the UH administration to coordinate this project.”

Williams closed the meeting by saying that she and METRO officials will return to the campus to address further concerns voiced by the UH community. Members of the university requested that another forum be conducted before Feb. 28.

More details on METRO’s rail projects, can be found at GoMETRORail.org.

Mike Emery