You choose: commuter rail vs. fast buses
The people pushing high-speed transit between Galveston and Houston have rolled out a Web site where residents can send in comments and fill out a survey.
The site at www.galvestonrailstudy.com is live just in time for next week's three public meetings on ways to ease congestion on the Gulf Freeway.
Even if you're planning on attending one of those meetings to air your opinions in person, the Web site is useful if you're the kind of person who wants to be informed before you open your mouth. It was launched Thursday by the Goodman Corp., the company hired by all the government entities involved to put together the Galveston-Houston Mobility Corridor Alternatives Analysis.
You may have already heard a little about the proposals, but the interesting stuff is in the details. All three options on the table, for instance, would operate only during peak commuter times, between 6 and 9 a.m. and between 5 and 7 p.m.
Carl Sharp, project manager for the Goodman Corp., says each of the three alternatives has its pros and cons:
COMMUTER RAIL: The option that authorities are currently leaning toward. A train would run on Union Pacific's tracks east of I-45 at average speeds of 50 to 60 mph. The rails would need to be upgraded, but no freight trains would be allowed to use the tracks during the hours when the commuter trains are running.
Pros: Capable of carrying the most passengers at the fastest speeds. Also, it wouldn't disrupt our current roads.
Cons: You'd usually need a transfer to get to your final destination, since stops are limited. It's a high-capital project, with a preliminary cost of $400 million, according to Goodman.
See the map.
BUS RAPID TRANSIT: High-capacity buses would largely take over our current barrier-lined HOV lane, which would be extended out to Galveston. Since a bus lane running in each direction is being suggested but planners don't want to reduce the number of general-traffic lanes, road crews would need to make use of the median, restripe lanes, pave the shoulder in some cases and perhaps acquire some right-of-way in certain spots.
Pros: You might be able to get where you want to go without a transfer. It's another fairly high-speed option, averaging between 40 and 50 mph, with a relatively high capacity.
Cons: It's also another high-capital option, with a cost similar to commuter rail, perhaps a little more or a little less, Sharp said. Another drawback is that the roadwork needed would be the most disruptive of all the options. Then there's the issue of what happens to the carpoolers who would normally use the HOV lane. With so many buses merging in and out, the bus lanes couldn't accommodate nearly as many cars. Authorities could raise the number of people required in each car using the lane, or they could charge tolls, as Metro's proposed, raising them as high as needed to reduce the number of cars.
See the map.
EXPRESS BUS: Buses would drive in diamond lanes on Highway 3 between Galveston and Bay Area Boulevard, and traffic signals on that stretch could be preempted to keep the buses moving. Between Bay Area and downtown, the buses packed with commuters would drive in what's currently the HOV lane on I-45, but buses running against the flow of rush-hour traffic would be relegated to regular lanes.
Pros: It's the cheapest option -- no figure has been given on just how cheap -- with relatively little disruption to current roads.
Cons: It's the slowest option, averaging 30 and 40 mph, and can handle the fewest passengers.
See the map.
Another option, of course, would be to do nothing at all, and comments are being taken on that possibility, too.
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