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METRO Blue Line Extension in the Twin Cities can learn from light rail experience and expansion in Houston

As planning for the METRO Blue Line Extension continues, residents of the Twin Cities can look to other American cities that have extended their light rail system to better serve under-resourced and under-served communities and learn more about their experience. 

 

In Houston, Texas, the Red Line was built through an historic BIPOC community to connect it to the city’s light rail transit system. There’s a parallel with the METRO Blue Line Extension, which will lay 13.4 miles of new track and connect North Minneapolis, Robbinsdale, Crystal and Brooklyn Park to the light rail system.

 

“You can’t have a vibrant, growing community and a world class city without good public transit,” noted Doug Delony, spokesman for Houston METRO. “We are all about equitable access as well as frequency with public transit. Every six minutes you get a train, you don’t even have to look at the schedule during those peak hours.”

 

In the Twin Cities, the METRO Blue Line has a price tag of $3 billion; the major infrastructure development promises new opportunities for business expansion, housing and prosperity when the trains start running.

 

That’s what has already happened with Houston's Red Line, which now has a track record as an engine for development in the city neighborhoods it serves.

 

“Studies show that in a three mile radius around Houston’s rail system there are investments in the community directly associated with the public transit system,” Delony said.

 

“Coming from the Red Line into downtown, we saw job opportunities and property development, with newer apartment homes and older apartments that have been renovated. Some of that may not have happened without a good transit system.”

 

The Red Line has been a lifeline for 70-year-old Ronno Hector, a retired cook and disabled veteran. He lives in a senior apartment community that’s a short walk from the Red Line and, without a car, has relied on the light rail system for transportation across his sprawling hometown.

 

“It’s very convenient for people like me,” Hector said. “Regular city buses stop at every light. Metro Red line does not so it’s faster. It’s a plus. You don’t have to pay to park, don’t have to fight traffic. Ooh, traffic in Houston gets worse and worse.”

 

Hector has relied on the Red Line to get him “in a straight shot” to his medical appointments at the Texas Medical Center stop. When he’s on the train, he often rides alongside students attending the community college in his neighborhood.

 

He recalled some community resistance when the line was planned but has concluded that the disruption during construction proved well worth it.

 

 “When they planned it I was racking my brain, how are they going to do it? But they worked it out. When something is new, people don’t want it. they fight against it. Now they see it’s beneficial,” he said. “ It’s been good for community, good for Houston.”

 

When completed, the 13.4 miles of new track will connect North Minneapolis, Robbinsdale, Crystal and Brooklyn Park to the light rail system, bringing state-of-the-art public transit to the corridor.

 

With a price tag of $3 billion, this major infrastructure project also promises new opportunities for business expansion, housing and prosperity when the trains start running.

 

Similar to what is now underway in the Twin Cities, Houston METRO planners spent several years connecting with communities for their feedback.

 

“For the transit agency it’s not about having one meeting, we’re talking dozens, even hundreds, of meetings,“ Delony explained. “We listened to the challenges, took that input and used it to help us design the system down to the smallest detail. It has to reflect the neighborhood.”

 

The addition of the Red Line brought public works improvements to the parts of the city it serves, with upgrades to drainage systems, sidewalks and with new landscaping in green spaces adjacent to the track and station stops.

 

“This investment improves the infrastructure for people who use the public transit and those who don’t,” Delony said. “Property values and pride in the community has gone up. Residents worked together to help limit the people being displaced. It takes the community, not just the transit authority, to invest in the community without losing the history that is there already.”

 

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