METRO/Uptown Post Oak BRT boondoggle suffers yet another setback

Measured METRO-Uptown BRT lane width (Image credit: Neal Meyer)

Over the past couple of weeks, rumors began circulating that the unneeded, expensive METRO/Uptown Post Oak Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project had experienced a pretty embarrassing setback: the lanes for the new, specially constructed BRT vehicles were not constructed wide enough to accommodate the fancy new buses that will travel them.

Our own Neal Meyer went out to take some measurements of the lanes – which we should note, are already being banged into pretty good by Houston drivers, judging by the tire marks on them – and discovered that the rumors were valid. Whereas the project’s conceptual illustrations seemed to indicate the lanes would be a full 11 feet wide, Meyer’s spot measurements found widths ranging from 9 feet 11 inches to 10 feet 5 inches wide. Since the frame of the long BRT vehicles is 8 feet 6 inches (102 inches) wide, and the practical width is even greater when accounting for mirrors and perhaps the door openings, that doesn’t leave the long buses much room to maneuver.

Interestingly, a Chronicle story on the topic appeared shortly after Meyer posted about it on facebook. Unsurprisingly, it appears METRO very much wanted to try to get ahead of the story and control the narrative, given the high stakes of their upcoming referendum. So they turned to an uncritical stenographer at the Chronicle to do so, replete with this misleading headline: Post Oak bus project narrowly avoids problem with lane width

Well, no, not exactly.

That terrible headline and parts of the story give the impression that the problem – which METRO allegedly discovered and promptly blamed on Uptown Houston – is resolved:

Workers recently replaced a roughly 100-foot segment along northbound Post Oak because the lanes — built specifically to allow Metropolitan Transit Authority buses to expedite transit service along the line — were nearly one foot too narrow.

“That was just an absolute mistake,” said John Breeding, president of Uptown Houston, which is rebuilding Post Oak to add more transit service.

Though significant to Metro’s plans to operate dedicated bus lanes that crews have spent the past three years building, the error will not impede service starting along the lines, Breeding said, adding the problem area represented less than one percent of the 2.3-mile route from Loop 610 to Westpark.

Nothing to see here. Feel free to move along. Except Neal Meyer found evidence of narrower segments that still exist (and were apparently marked by project workers). So things are not quite as rosy as suggested.

And the Chronicle story itself is internally inconsistent on this question. Further along, readers learn that indeed, more fixes are anticipated by the same people implying that everything is fine:

“Changes and corrections are being made if necessary….” Breeding said.

[snip]

According to Breeding, plans call for lanes of 10 feet, 6 inches along most of the route, but 9 feet, 6 inches along the 16 stations — two stations for each stop along the bus line. Where they are too narrow, fixes will be made, he said.

“There are cases where we are an inch or inch and half out of compliance,” he said.

What interesting tense choices by the Chronicle stenographer for problems that have already been fixed, didn’t affect that much, and shouldn’t worry anyone at all!

One can understand why METRO would have preferred to keep this construction fiasco quiet as long as possible. Given that it’s hard to cover up workers tearing out and rebuilding concrete guideways that the new 60-foot long BRT vehicles can’t navigate, however, the organization certainly seemed happy to pivot and throw Uptown Houston and Breeding under the proverbial bus for it. Never mind that METRO continues to tout the benefits of this BRT project (that isn’t functional) in the TV ads that are saturating Houston media, in an effort to convince voters they should be entrusted with building even more such projects.

METRO: Give us credit for our cool depictions of what might be, and not the Post Oak fiasco that has been (so far)!

Since both Breeding and METRO officials are allowed to assure Chronicle readers that their Post Oak project should still begin service in March 2020 as planned, this seems like a good time to remind that this unneeded, highly controversial project was originally anticipated to be ready in early 2017, and that METRO/Uptown have proven utterly incapable of delivering. From a less effusive November 2018 Chronicle story:

The end is near for construction that has clogged Post Oak and delayed drivers, but the buses at the center of the project will not start rolling for at least another year as officials grapple with roadblocks threatening to push the final route three years past its original completion date.

Months of additional work lies ahead on the dedicated bus lanes in the middle of the street as crews complete the stations that will connect passengers to the rapid transit line. Though once on target to ferry passengers this holiday season, workers still are installing electrical and fiber optics systems so the buses can operate, as they pour the last segments of concrete along the widened roads from Loop 610 south to Richmond.

As a result the buses, which officials at one point had hoped would ferry visitors for the 2017 Super Bowl, will not carry passengers until 2020.

Even when Metropolitan Transit Authority begins operating the buses along dedicated lanes in the center of the street, riders and operators face months, perhaps years of detours at both ends of the project as two Texas Department of Transportation projects take shape.

METRO’s actual track record is worth keeping in mind as the organization continues to bombard Houstonians with a multimillion dollar campaign to approve its latest plan to fix everything.

Related: Construction mistakes affect METRO/Uptown Post Oak BRT Project (KTRK-13 News); The Post Oak bus Uptown guideway: A runaway train (Jim Noteware, Houston Business Journal); A public meeting on the Uptown light rail bus rapid transit line (Neal Meyer, blogHOUSTON).

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About Kevin Whited 4195 Articles
Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX