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Houston LRT system construction might soon begin

The on-again/off-again saga at Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris Co., Texas, (Metro) has taken a very tentative step toward on.

Metro had planned a Jan. 25 groundbreaking for MetroRail, a 7.5-mile light-rail system connecting downtown Houston and the Astrodome, but cancelled it following a lawsuit filed by City Councilman Rob Todd, a temporary restraining order issued by Judge Tony Lindsay, and an injunction issued by District Judge John Devine.

The lawsuit at the core of the legal wranglings stated that Metro should operate as a franchise, seeking public approval to build on city streets, not as a government entity, which required only city council approval.

In mid-February, Metro requested the Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas to accelerate its appeal against the injunction.

The state appellate court agreed, and March 8 released a 23-page opinion , which said that "the trial court erred in its application of the law to the undisputed facts. We reverse the trial court’s order, dissolve the temporary injunction, and remand the cause to the trial court."

The court also states that "the uncontroverted record shows that for more than 20 years the city has given Metro permission to make alterations to city streets without ever requiring Metro to obtain a franchise or right to use the streets under sections 17 and 18."

Sections 17 and 18 address granting of franchises, which the court said referred only to "privately owned entities, such as railway companies."

Judge Devine has called a hearing for Monday, March 12, at 1:30 p.m. CST, says Julie Gilbert, Metro vice president communication and marketing.

Given the appellate court’s seemingly air-tight decision and remand for the trial court to review its injunction in light of that decision, Metro’s board plans to meet at 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 13, followed by a ceremonial groundbreaking to be held somewhere along the planned route.

The six-week delay has cost about $3 million, and the project likely won’t be done as planned for the 2004 Super Bowl, which will be held at the Astrodome. But the line’s construction may play a role in whether Houston is selected to host the 2012 Olympic Games.

Kathi Kube

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 3/9/2001