A look at METRONext, the plan to change Houston transit for decades to come

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For years, Houston has engaged in an endless battle to stay ahead of its own congestion. And after spending billions of dollars to lay down a tangle of always-under-construction freeways, Houstonians are getting a new chance to start shifting the city’s infrastructure to mass transit without any new taxes.

Last week, the Metro Houston board approved a $3.5 billion bond measure that would solve some of the problems that have concerned transportation officials for years.

“One thing that has to happen is we have to expand our [transit] system because by 2040 we’re gonna have 10 million people in the region, a 50 percent increase of people in our service area,” Carrin Patman, chair for the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, told The Signal.

Patman said that was like having the population of Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, Corpus and Arlington all overlaid onto the region.

To handle the city’s expected population explosion, Harris County transit officials are proposing METRONext, a plan to introduce more rail line, more bus service, and most notably, a new Bus Rapid Transit system.

Best of all, the solution seems like the region’s first major transit plan that won’t rely on more concrete to ease the county’s current and future congestion problems. 

“The problem with building more and more roads is they always end up packed,” Patman said. “Look at I-10, a number of years ago there was this big expansion of I-10 for billions of dollars and within a very short time it was packed again.”

Working with members of the community, the solution METRO has put forward hopes to avoid that problem by building on investments Harris County has already made.

The plan’s latest draft calls for adding 16 new miles of light rail (including a connection to Hobby Airport), increasing bus service by 25 percent, hundreds of miles of new bus routes, and introducing 75 miles of a new bus rapid transit system– a half-bus, half-rail system that will make frequent stops to service riders without having to lay down rail or wires. 

“People hear ‘bus’ and run, but the truth is it’s a game changing technology because it’s so much less expensive and you can go so much further,” Patman said.

The METRONext plan will be on the ballot on Nov. 5.

Photo: ABC13

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