December 11, 2023

Relocating METRO’s Bellaire Transit Center

It’s a question I’ve been asked from time to time, and more often of late since it was brought up on the campaign trail and got people talking.  Now that we’re through election season, a blog post on the subject is in order.

The City of Bellaire does not have authority to relocate the Bellaire Transit Center; if METRO is going to do so, it’ll be because it makes sense for METRO.

That we may feel it no longer benefits us isn’t what’s going to move the needle.  Rather, it’s that it would work better—for METRO—if it were situated further west.

Many in Bellaire will be glad to know METRO gets that, too.  While plans could still change and there are no guarantees or commitments as to timing, the future of the transit center indeed looks to be headed in that direction.

First, a little bit of history.  Given prevailing sentiments today it’s perhaps ironic that way back when, the City of Bellaire actually sought to have the transit center built where it is as part of an ambitious plan to revitalize the downtown business district.

The Texan, October 1, 1986

The Texan, December 15, 1987
The City played an active role, partnering with METRO on the center and an accompanying package of major improvements including realignment and reconstruction of streets in the area.  Of the $3 million total project cost, the City contributed some $800,000, plus the land for the center.  It was completed and opened in December 1987.

Notwithstanding that history, fast-forward to present and the transit center no longer fits our vision for downtown Bellaire.  It also causes some traffic problems, as the relatively constrained right-of-way at that location is not optimal for maneuvering long articulated buses across several lanes of traffic in to and out of the center.  But what to do about it?  The center belongs to METRO, not to us, and so really it’s not our call.

The key is to show METRO why moving it would be better, for METRO.  Which has been our message to them for years, since before my time in office.  Going at least as far back as Mayor Cindy Siegel’s tenure (she incidentally went on to serve seven years on the METRO Board), that’s been our pitch.

Specifically, while the hugely important No. 2 and 402 (Quickline) routes that run east/west down Bellaire Blvd. to the Texas Medical Center aren’t going anywhere, the primary north/south connection point into those lines doesn’t need to be at S. Rice.  In fact, the population centers METRO aims to serve are concentrated to our west, on the other side of Chimney Rock and beyond.  There’s much greater transit demand in that area than in ours, so it makes sense to focus the buses where the riders are.

Enter the Gulfton Corridor project, a component of the METRONext Moving Forward Plan approved overwhelmingly by the voters in 2019.  The route (locally preferred alternative) selected in August of this year calls for north/south connectivity from the Westpark/Lower Uptown Transit Center directly into the heart of Gulfton, rather than by way of transfer at S. Rice.  METRO anticipates federal funding and completion of the final design in 2024, after which construction is expected to take two years.

This is great for METRO, and it’s a big step in the right direction for Bellaire.  Does it guarantee the Bellaire Transit Center will be eliminated once the Gulfton project is done?  Well, not exactly, but it has been METRO’s clearly stated intention from the outset, that the Gulfton center would replace the one in Bellaire, not merely add to it.  METRO leadership have on multiple occasions, as recently as last month, given us their assurances that’s still their thinking.  That once the Gulfton Corridor is up and running there will be less justification, operationally, for the tie-in at S. Rice, and they’re certainly well aware of our concerns.

Bottom line, relocating the Bellaire Transit Center is something over which we, the City, have no direct control.  We’ve been consistently advocating for it for years through our relationship with METRO, but we can’t force it.  With the Gulfton project on the horizon, there’s good reason to be optimistic it’ll happen in the foreseeable future.  For now, we’ll need to be patient a bit longer, and continue to monitor and support the progress of METRONext.