Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wail and rail

A thought-provoking letter to the editor appeared in Bay Area News recently, concerning the proposed development of container terminal facilities at Pelican Island, a "spoil island" created by dredging sediment from ship channels near the City of Galveston, and currently home to a number of offshore service shorebases, Seawolf Park, and the Sea Aggies.  (If you'd like to read more about this geographic oddity, there's a short and somewhat bizarre Wiki entry here.)
Display of military vessels at Seawolf Park.
Photo courtesy of http://www.cavalla244.org/
While most of the mainstream media reporting has focused on the economic and political ramifications of Pelican Island's development, local resident and community volunteer Fred Swerdlin raised an important point: such a facility could dramatically increase rail traffic along the Highway 3 line, which runs through the middle of both League City and Clear Lake. 

I'm not sure where Fred got his info, but he signs himself as a resident of "Clear Lake City" (which has never existed as a legal entity - long story), so we can bet that he has lived here a long time, and there's a good chance that he's right. 

This is a concern to us here in Centerpointe (and the rest of League City east of the Gulf Freeway) for two reasons:

(1) It could further snarl traffic in a city already sliced in half by a rail line for which few east-west crossings exist.  That rail line is a significant contributor to many of our mobility issues.  Can you imagine traffic getting worse on FM 518??  Talk about descending into lower and lower rungs of Hell.  The visibility of the historical studies dealing with FM 518's wider congestion problems have recently been eclipsed by complaints about the five-corners intersection of which FM 518 is a big part, but the fact remains that the road itself is a huge problem for us, in large part because there are no relief corridors, and there are no relief corridors in large part because there are so few rail crossings.  What good would it do you to move more efficiently through five-corners if you then have a bottleneck a mile further west at the rail line?!

(2) The noise pollution impacts could be significant for Centerpointe.  Are you ever awakened by that train that periodically blasts up the Highway 3 line around 3:30 a.m.?  You sure are if you live on the north or east sides of Centerpointe, because we are not that far from those tracks.  And if Pelican Island development increases, you might hear a heck of a lot more of that noise, day and night.  Have you ever spent time in neighborhoods inside Houston's Loop 610, especially overnight?  Those residents are plagued with train horns to the point where I don't know why more people don't hurl themselves off the Waugh Street bridge from losing their minds.  It's such a lifestyle dichotomy: many inner-loop residents pay $750,000 for a modest house (location, location, location), and yet they have to live with this constant and exhausting sleep-destroying racket.  They've made some progress in forcing the rail companies to establish quiet zones where train horns are prohibited, but it's still a huge problem for them. 

As the old saying goes, ya can't stop progress, and I would not suggest trying to stop the development of Pelican Island.  But we have to make sure that our community don't inherit the short end of the stick because of this, by way of quality-of-life degradation: if there are deleterious effects expected from increased use of that rail line, a plan needs to be developed and deployed to mitigate them.  Not just empty political promises - an actual enforceable plan.

I'll report further on this potential issue as more info becomes available.

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