This past Monday, I am driving back into Houston from a job in the Hill Country. Coming in on the I-10 is frustrating as we all know, but the client sitting next to me made the comment, why did they not build a light rail line along this corridor at the same time? My thought was why did they not build a light rail along the Westpark tollway at the same time as the toll way was being constructed.
Hindsight is great, but we have to look to the future and the present to see what we can accomplish. Judge Emmet has announced his plans to have a commuter rail service start up between Houston and Galveston, which is nice; however, it is moving around our city in an efficient way which may be more vital to the residents here. With fuel costs soaring along with other daily costs of living, public transportation is becoming a benefit that cannot be forgone. In Chicago, you do not need a car to get around town; you may have one for weekend excursions. But you see, the car is part of the American cultural landscape, so it is hard to part with. The largest hurdle for light rail though will not be our love affair with the automobile, but the dread of construction.
I have decided as much as I can to avoid the area where Beltway 8 and the I-10 intersect. It seems that once construction was completed for one project, a new one was begun. This attitude of mine is bad for the businesses around the Town and Country area, since I will find somewhere else to go shopping. This is the fear of many of the retail shops along the proposed rail routes. The second fear is looking at the difficulty that drivers have reaching locations along the current light rail line from the Medical Center to Downtown. It is not actually too bad, but I do use some back streets to go to some of my favorite locales along the rail’s path.
Stores will adapt. Passing by Town and Country’s parking lot, I feel that the shops are not suffering, but how will the homeowners be effected. My personal belief is that it will be positive for the communities close to the rail lines. My wife uses the bus and rail to go to her job in the Medical Center. She still needs her car to go to the transit center. What may be more convenient is if she could rapidly arrive at the terminals she needs to be at to make it to her job on time without the use of the car. Eventually home buyers will pay more to live close to these lines, so they could save on the expense of the car. Houston may find that other expenses associated with the roads are no longer needed, which can place money toward other projects. Let’s face it: fuel costs are not going to come down to the level that they were when Bush entered office, so Houston has to find a way to make the city more livable for all of its residents. If we cannot find an affordable way to travel about our vast area, many businesses or other parts of the city will suffer.
At first, homes in these construction zones will not be the most desired. This does not mean that they would have a sharp decrease in value. Most areas in Houston, even those in the high construction areas, have not seen drops in prices. They have been slowly rising, or at least holding steady. Once the rail lines have been established, the communities along them may become desirable to the consumer. Consider the growing “green” movement. More people want a “green” or energy efficient or even Energy Star home. This is not a major selling point as of yet, but my clients do ask me after an inspection about energy efficiency concerns, so it is playing on the minds of the consumer. As fuel prices remain high, we will be driven to make choices based upon our desire to spend less on energy. What do you think may be the outcome of a rail line near you?