[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 6 (Monday, January 10, 2011)]
[Notices]
[Pages 1501-1504]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-149]


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DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

Federal Transit Administration


Preparation of Environmental Impact Statement for Transit 
Improvements in the US 90A/Southwest Rail Corridor in Metropolitan 
Houston, TX

AGENCY: Federal Transit Administration (FTA), Department of 
Transportation (DOT).

ACTION: Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement.

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SUMMARY: The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Metropolitan 
Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) intend to prepare an 
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in accordance with the National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), to evaluate the proposed transit 
improvements in the US 90A/Southwest Rail corridor in the Houston 
metropolitan area (Harris County). The US 90A/Southwest Rail corridor 
extends approximately eight miles from the vicinity of the Fannin South 
Station at the southern terminus of the existing METRORail Red Line to 
West Sam Houston Tollway (Beltway 8) in Missouri City, Texas. The 
proposed scope of the EIS, including the project's purpose and need, an 
initial set of alternatives proposed for evaluation, and the 
significant impacts to be considered, are presented below. A public 
scoping process seeking comment on the scope of the EIS is announced 
below.

DATES: Comment Due Date: Written comments on the scope of the EIS, 
including the project's purpose and need, and the alternatives and 
impacts to be considered should be sent to the Metropolitan Transit 
Authority of Harris County (METRO) no later than March 11, 2011. See 
ADDRESSES below.
    Scoping Meeting Dates: Public Scoping meetings for the US 90A/
Southwest Rail Corridor Transit Project will be held on February 14, 
2011, February 15, 2011, February 16, 2011 and February 22, 2011. See 
ADDRESSES below for meeting times and locations. Presentation of the 
study corridor and the proposed scope of the study will be made at the 
meetings, followed by an opportunity for the public to ask question or 
make comments on the project's purpose and need, the alternatives to be 
evaluated and the impacts to be assessed. Scoping information material 
will be available on the project Web site at http://www.ridemetro.org 
and at the meeting and may also be obtained in advance of the meeting 
by contacting METRO at the address identified in ADDRESSES below. Any 
person who requires language interpretation or special communication 
accommodations is encouraged to contact the METRO Community Outreach 
Hotline at (713) 739-4018 at least 72 hours prior to the scoping 
meeting. The location for the meetings will be accessible to persons 
with disabilities.

ADDRESSES: Written comments should be sent to:
    Edmund Petry, Lead Environmental Planner, METRO Infrastructure & 
Service Development, 1900 Main Street, Houston, Texas 77002.
    You can also obtain information and contact METRO about issues for 
the US 90A/Southwest Rail Corridor Transit Project from the project Web 
site at http://www.ridemetro.org. Scoping meetings will be held at the 
following locations:
    Meeting 1: February 14, 2011 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
    Houston-Galveston Area Council (Agency Scoping), 3777 Timmons, 
Conference Room A 2nd Floor, Houston, TX 77027.
    Meeting 2: February 15, 2011 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
    Waterside Caf[eacute], TMC Commons Area, 6550 Bertner STE: 1, 
Houston, TX 77030.
    Meeting 3: February 15, 2011 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
    Missouri City Community Center, 1522 Texas Parkway, Missouri City, 
TX 77489.
    Meeting 4: February 16, 2011 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
    The Power Center, Southeast Ballroom, 12401 S. Post Oak Road, 
Houston, TX 77045.
    Meeting 5: February 22, 2011 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
    Westbury High School, Atrium, 11911 Chimney Rock, Houston, TX 
77035.

FOR FURTHER INFORMTION CONTACT: Daisy Mather, Environmental Protection 
Specialist, FTA Region VI, 819 Taylor Street, Ft. Worth, Texas 76102, 
Telephone (817) 978-0550.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Scoping

    METRO and FTA invite all interested individuals and organizations, 
and Federal, State, Native American Tribal, regional, and local 
governmental agencies to comment on the scope of the

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EIS, including the project's purpose and need, the alternatives to be 
studied, the impacts to be evaluated, and the assessment methods to be 
used.
    Comments may address (1) the project's purpose and need, (2) 
feasible alternatives that may better achieve the project's purpose and 
need with fewer adverse impacts, and (3) any significant environmental 
or community impacts relating to the alternatives.
    NEPA scoping (Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations [CFR] 
1501.7) has specific and fairly limited objectives, one of which is to 
identify the significant issues associated with alternatives that will 
be examined in detail in the document, while simultaneously limiting 
consideration and development of issues that are not truly significant. 
It is in the NEPA scoping process that potentially significant 
environmental and community impacts--those that give rise to the need 
to prepare an environmental impact statement--should be identified; 
impacts that are deemed not to be significant need not be developed 
extensively in the context of the impact statement, thereby keeping the 
statement focused on impacts of consequence consistent with the 
ultimate objectives of the NEPA implementing regulations--``to make the 
environmental impact statement process more useful to decision makers 
and the public; and to reduce paperwork and the accumulation of 
extraneous background data, in order to emphasize the need to focus on 
real environmental issues and alternatives * * * [by requiring] impact 
statements to be concise, clear, and to the point, and supported by 
evidence that agencies have made the necessary environmental 
analyses.'' Executive Order 11991, May 24, 1977.
    Once the scope of the environmental study, including significant 
environmental issues to be addressed, is settled, an annotated outline 
of the document will be prepared and shared with interested agencies 
and the public. The outline serves at least three worthy purposes, 
including (1) documenting the results of the scoping process; (2) 
contributing to the transparency of the process; and (3) providing a 
clear roadmap for concise development of the environmental document.

Purpose and Need for the Project

    The US 90A/Southwest Rail Corridor Transit Project has been 
identified in the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan Update (2035 RTP 
Update) of the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) and the METRO 
Solutions 2025 Plan (METRO, August 2003) as a priority transportation 
investment.
    The US 90A/Southwest Rail corridor continues to increase in 
population and employment with limited traffic capacity on existing 
streets and highways resulting in increased travel time, delays, and 
air pollution. Portions of the US 90A/Southwest Rail corridor are 
already densely developed. New development and redevelopment is 
occurring along the corridor and is expected to generate increased 
travel demand. In particular, high density, mixed use developments are 
planned in the corridor.
    Travel patterns in the corridor are influenced by US 59 as it 
connects the southwestern end of the study area in Fort Bend County to 
Downtown Houston and the Texas Medical Center (TMC). Much of the growth 
in traffic along US 59 is a result of residential growth in Fort Bend 
County, as well as an increase in population and employment in major 
activity centers in Houston, including Downtown Houston and the TMC. 
High levels of congestion on US 59 result in traffic being diverted 
onto US 90A and the local road network.
    Over the past few decades, both Fort Bend County and Harris County 
have experienced steady and significant population and employment 
growth. Future projections indicate that the rate of growth will 
continue to be high over the next 25-30 years, particularly in Fort 
Bend County. By 2035, population in the study area is projected to 
increase by 46 percent from 21,903 to 31,897, households by 49 percent 
from 8,079 to 12,039, and employment by 42 percent from 24,157 to 
34,242. H-GAC, 2008.
    Growth is generating greater demand than can be met by existing 
transportation facilities and other planned improvements. Transit 
improvements in the US 90A/Southwest Rail corridor will fill an 
important role in meeting the overall mobility needs for southwest 
Houston.
    The strongest travel pattern in the US 90A/Southwest Rail corridor 
currently exists to and from the TMC, with 27,174 daily trips. This 
relationship is projected to continue and daily trips are projected to 
increase to 31,855 by 2035. There are also important existing travel 
patterns between the study area and destinations such as Uptown/
Galleria (18,752), Downtown (11,924), and Greenway Plaza (10,642) and 
these are all projected to increase substantially by 2035--to Uptown/
Galleria (23,913), Downtown (18,620), and Greenway Plaza (15,166). H-
GAC 2005 and 2035 Person Trip Tables.
    US 90A/Southwest Rail Corridor Transit Project would connect 
important employment areas such as Downtown Houston and the Texas 
Medical Center (TMC) (with 130,000 and 74,000 jobs respectively) with 
the cities of Missouri City and Stafford (with a combined population of 
nearly 100,000 residents and 32,000 jobs) U.S. Census Bureau, 2007 and 
2008. The US 90A/Southwest Rail Project would also link Fort Bend 
County/southwest Harris County and other major activity centers 
currently served by the existing METRORail Red Line, including several 
college campuses (the University of Houston, Houston Community College 
and Rice University) and cultural, sports and entertainment complexes 
(Reliant Park, Minute Maid Park, Toyota Center, the Houston Zoo, and 
the Museum District).
    METRO does provide bus service in the US 90A/Southwest Rail 
corridor; however buses operate in mixed-flow traffic on city streets 
for a portion of their route. As a result, bus travel times are 
influenced by roadway congestion which is anticipated to increase. Peak 
period bus travel times can be as much as 30 percent longer than travel 
times during off-peak periods. In addition to slower peak period travel 
times, the reliability of bus service in the US 90A/Southwest Rail 
corridor is influenced by traffic incident-induced congestion and 
delays.
    The Houston metropolitan area is a severe nonattainment area for 
the eight-hour ground level ozone standard for air quality. At a 
minimum, transportation improvements must not degrade air quality and 
should strive to reduce mobile source emissions in the future. 
Providing alternatives to automobile travel is a key ingredient in 
reducing mobile source emissions.
    The purpose of the proposed project is to improve mobility, 
accessibility, and system linkage between the major residential areas 
in Missouri City and Stafford with major employment centers, such as 
Downtown Houston and the TMC. The proposed transit improvement would 
provide a high speed transit alternative to the traffic congestion in 
the corridor and further the implementation of the METRO Rail Expansion 
Program.
    A key component of service in the US 90A/Southwest Rail Corridor 
Transit Project would be the regional connectivity that it would offer. 
The proposed US 90A/Southwest Rail corridor transit service would 
connect to the existing METRORail Red Line, which would provide access 
to Downtown, Midtown, the Museum District and other major activity 
centers. Good connectivity to mainline transit

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service is important for maintaining and expanding transit ridership. 
Without convenient transit network access, ridership in the US 90A/
Southwest Rail corridor would be adversely affected by decreased bus 
speeds and increased travel times directly attributable to increased 
traffic congestion.

Project Location and Environmental Setting

    The study area is located within the Houston urban area and is 
defined as being within the roughly 5-mile wide travel corridor that 
contains US 90A/Southwest Rail. The majority of the study area is 
within Harris County, with a small portion within Fort Bend County. The 
corridor is about eight miles long, linking the City of Houston and the 
City of Missouri City. It extends from the Fannin South Station at the 
southern terminus of the existing METRORail Red Line to West Sam 
Houston Tollway (Beltway 8) and US 90A.
    US 90A, a major northeast-to-southwest highway, runs the length of 
the study area. IH-610 borders the study area on the north and Beltway 
8 borders the study area on the west. The study area is bisected by the 
Union Pacific (UP) freight railroad; the study area parallels the UP 
Glidden subdivision and is intersected by the UP Terminal subdivision.

Alternatives

    Preliminary alternatives identified include a No Build Alternative 
and various Build Alternatives. Additional alternatives may emerge from 
comments received during the scoping process. Technology alternatives 
will be addressed during the EIS process including those alternatives 
that would require use of Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) 
compliant rail vehicles, such as would be case with Build Alternative 3 
below. The initial list of alternatives proposed for consideration is 
as follows:
    No Build Alternative: This alternative includes all transportation 
facilities and services programmed for implementation by 2030. This 
alternative includes highway and roadway improvements, as well as 
transit facilities. The H-GAC 2035 RTP serves as the basis for defining 
the elements of the No Build Alternative. The No Build Alternative 
proposes no major transit or transportation improvements in the US 90A/
Southwest Rail corridor.
    Alternative 1--North of UP Railroad--Buffalo Lakes/West Bellfort: 
This light rail transit (LRT) alternative begins in the vicinity of 
Beltway 8 and US 90A and runs northeast along the north side of the UP 
Railroad right-of-way. It turns north and runs through the future 
Buffalo Lakes development. At West Bellfort Road, it turns east and 
follows West Bellfort Road to Fannin Street, where it turns north to 
connect to the existing METRORail Red Line. A Hillcroft/West Airport 
Alignment Option turns north at Hillcroft Street and then east onto 
West Airport Boulevard. After crossing Chimney Rock Road, it merges 
back along the north side of the UP Railroad right-of-way.
    Alternative 2--North of UP Railroad/Fannin: This LRT alternative 
begins in the vicinity of Beltway 8 and US 90A and runs northeast along 
the north side of the UP Railroad right-of way. At Fannin Street it 
turns north to connect to the existing METRORail Red Line. A Hillcroft/
West Airport Alignment Option turns north at Hillcroft Street and then 
east onto West Airport Boulevard. After crossing Chimney Rock Road, it 
merges back along the north side of the UP Railroad right-of-way.
    Alternative 3--UP Right-of-Way--Fannin: This commuter rail 
alternative begins in the vicinity of Beltway 8 and US 90A and runs 
northeast within the UP Railroad right-of-way. At Fannin, it turns 
north to connect to the existing METRORail Red Line.
    Alternative 4--Between UP Railroad and US 90A--Buffalo Lakes/West 
Bellfort: This LRT alternative begins in the vicinity of Beltway 8 and 
US 90A and runs northeast between the UP Railroad and US 90A. It turns 
north and runs through the future Buffalo Lakes development. At West 
Bellfort Road, it turns east and follows West Bellfort Road to Fannin 
Street, where it turns north and connects to the existing METRORail Red 
line.
    Alternative 5--South of US 90A--Buffalo Lakes/West Bellfort: This 
LRT alternative begins in the vicinity of Beltway 8 and US 90A and runs 
northeast along the south side of the US 90A. It turns north and runs 
through the future Buffalo Lakes development. At West Bellfort Road, it 
turns east and follows West Bellfort Road to Fannin Street, where it 
turns north to connect to the existing METRORail Red Line.

Possible Effects

    The preliminary set of alternatives that have been identified would 
use UPRR ROW, TXDOT ROW, newly acquired right-of-way, or a combination 
of each. Each of the proposed alternatives may pose different 
environmental concerns for analysis. Alignments using UPRR ROW could 
have potential impacts in the areas of freight rail operations, noise & 
vibration, hazardous materials, water quality, floodplains, and 
aesthetics. Proposed alignments that use TxDOT ROW of South Main (US 
90A) could have impacts in the areas of noise & vibration, water 
quality, traffic, and floodplains. Newly acquired ROW could have 
potential environmental impacts on a broader range of categories such 
as wetlands, floodplains, parkland, residential and industrial property 
displacements, noise & vibration, threatened & endangered species, and 
cultural resources. The proposed project would occur in the Houston-
Galveston region, which is classified as a ``severe'' non-attainment 
area for ground level zone; therefore, all alternatives would be 
investigated for air quality impacts.
    Environmental justice issues will be examined for all alternatives, 
and Limited English Proficiency and Title VI requirements documented. 
The indirect and cumulative effects of the proposed project would also 
be analyzed in the EIS.
    The EIS will take into account both positive and negative impacts, 
direct and indirect impacts, short-term and long-term impacts and site 
specific and corridor wide impacts. The impact evaluation will be 
consistent with all Federal, State, and local criteria, regulations and 
policies. The EIS will identify measures to avoid, minimize, and 
mitigate adverse environmental and community impacts. To ensure that 
all significant issues related to this proposed action are identified 
and addressed, scoping comments and suggestions are invited from all 
interested parties. In addition, a Public Involvement Program will 
include outreach to community and civic groups; periodic meetings with 
various local organizations; a public hearing on release of the draft 
EIS; and development and distribution of project newsletters.

FTA Procedures

    The EIS will be prepared in accordance with NEPA and its 
implementing regulations issued by the Council on Environmental Quality 
(40 CFR parts 1500-1508) and with the FTA/Federal Highway 
Administration regulations ``Environmental Impact and Related 
Procedures'' (23 CFR part 771). In accordance with 23 CFR 771.105(a) 
and 771.133, FTA will comply with all Federal environmental laws, 
regulations, and executive orders applicable to the proposed project 
during the environmental review process to the maximum extent 
practicable. These requirements include, but are not limited to, the 
environmental and public hearing

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provisions of Federal transit laws (49 U.S.C. 5323(b), and 5324), the 
project-level air quality conformity regulation of the U.S. 
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (40 CFR part 93), the section 
404(b)(1) guidelines of EPA (40 CFR part 230), the regulation 
implementing section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (36 
CFR part 800), the regulation implementing section 7 of the Endangered 
Species Act (50 CFR part 402), section 4(f) of the Department of 
Transportation Act (23 CFR part 774), and Executive Orders 12898 on 
environmental justice, 11988 on floodplain management, and 11990 on the 
protection of the wetlands.
    The FTA regulations implementing NEPA, as well as provisions of the 
Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A 
Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), requires that FTA and METRO (1) invite 
other Federal and non-Federal agencies and Native American Tribes that 
may have an interest in the proposed project to become ``participating 
agencies;'' (2) provide an opportunity for involvement by participating 
agencies and the public to help define the purpose and need, and the 
range of alternatives for consideration; and (3) establish a plan for 
coordinating public and agency participation in, and comment on, the 
environmental review. It is possible that FTA and METRO will not be 
able to identify all Federal and non-Federal agencies and Native 
American Tribes that may have such an interest. Any Federal or non-
Federal agency or Native American Tribe interested in the proposed 
project that does not receive an invitation to become a participating 
agency should notify at the earliest opportunity the Project Manager 
identified above under ADDRESSES.

Paperwork Reduction

    The Paperwork Reduction Act seeks, in part, to minimize the cost to 
the taxpayer of the creation, collection, maintenance, use, 
dissemination, and disposition of information. Consistent with this 
goal and with principles of economy and efficiency in government, it is 
FTA policy to limit insofar as possible distribution of complete 
printed sets of environmental documents. Accordingly, unless a specific 
request for a complete printed set of environmental documents is 
received (preferably in advance of printing), FTA and its grantees will 
distribute only the executive summary of the environmental document 
together with a Compact Disc of the complete environmental document. A 
complete printed set of the environmental document will be available 
for review at the libraries and governments offices in the project 
area; an electronic copy of the complete environmental document will 
also be available on the project Web site at http://www.ridemetro.org.

Blas M. Uribe,
FTA Deputy Regional Administrator.
[FR Doc. 2011-149 Filed 1-7-11; 8:45 am]
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