HOUSTON – (Commentary by Ralph Bivins) Houston is about to make a huge mistake with the development of its high-speed train to north Texas.
The proposed Texas Central 200 mph rail line that will run from Houston to Dallas has a lot of good things about it.
The train will be good for transit, good for the economy and it prepares Houston for the years ahead when the metro area’s population hits 10 million.
It’s the train’s terminal location that’s a mistake.
The memorandum of understanding, signed Thursday by Mayor Sylvester Turner and Tim Keith, president of Texas Central Partners, reveals that the train’s terminus station will probably be located at the old Northwest Mall property. The close-in mall site would probably be an excellent location for certain kinds of redevelopment, but it’s a questionable place for a transportation hub.
If you haven’t shopped at Northwest Mall lately – and not many people have – it’s located near the intersection of Loop 610 and Highway 290.
Northwest Mall is not an easy place to get to – unless you own a helicopter.
The Northwest Mall site is adjacent to the West Loop, which has been recognized many times as the busiest freeway in the state of Texas. And Highway 290 is no slouch when it comes to horrible traffic.
Alan Bernstein, director of communications for the mayor, notes that the train station site has not been finalized.
But the memorandum signed Thursday by the mayor says: “Texas Central has advised the City and the City acknowledges that Texas Central proposes to locate the Houston Terminal Station in the general area south of U.S. 290, west of Loop 610, and north of I-10. Texas Central will consult with the City prior to finalizing the location of the Houston Terminal Station.”
The mayor holds the goal of reducing our dependency on cars. It’s a good goal and necessary for the city’s upcoming growth.
But the train stop should be in downtown where it’s connected to existing transit systems, which will be expanded and improved. Over 100,000 people work in downtown – it’s able to handle the traffic.
I don’t know why Texas Central would choose to stop the 240-mile train line at Northwest Mall. My guess is they want to stop there to shave some costs off the $12 billion price tag of the project.
But downtown is the right place to put this station. Perhaps it’s not too late to get control of the old downtown Post Office, now owned by Frank Liu. The Post Office is only a few blocks from Amtrak’s station.
Transit stations can be huge catalysts for development. Case in point: Mark Falcone of Denver’s Continuum Partners redeveloped the oid train station in downtown Denver. It’s now bustling with retail and restaurants inside, surrounded by new office buildings, new apartments and a new Kimpton Hotel. Eight commuter rail lines converge there. This could happen in Houston.
Where is the dream for a world-class train station in downtown Houston? It should have restaurants, retail, hotels, nearby residential – and connections to light rail, buses and commuter rail.
Too many times, Houston has cheaped-out when facing big decisions. The north leg of Metro Rail ends at Northline Mall, which hasn’t been relevant as a regional mall for 40 years. Then, there was the decision to put Metro light rail at-grade – which costs less to construct. The at-grade rail design ends up taking away lanes for cars and becomes a safety hazard for pedestrians, cyclists and people driving cars. Houstonians have been killed in light rail accidents. An elevated train would have cost more, but it would have been better – and safer.
Houston has good leadership. May they step forward now and find a way to avoid this mistake. The bullet train should stop in downtown, not Northwest Mall. And the downtown train station needs to be a world-class transit-oriented development.
Houston – let’s get it right this time.
Commentary by Ralph Bivins, editor, Realty News Report