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Houston METRO Light Rail Expansion, Houston, TX

Houston METRO Light Rail Expansion

Improving Regional Mobility and Enhancing the Economy

Serving the largest city in Texas and the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the United States, Houston METRO’s vision is to improve mobility, provide alternative transportation options, and enhance economic opportunities that will benefit Houston’s residents and businesses alike. In 2003, citizens demonstrated their support for this ambitious vision by approving a referendum for an expanded, modern transit system and comprehensive plan for a multimodal premium transit network.

Quitman/Near Northside split-platform station

Quitman/Near Northside split-platform station

Based on our performance on previous Houston METRO projects and on light rail transit (LRT) projects worldwide, Houston METRO chose Parsons for two key roles: managing partner of the design-build joint venture and project oversight. Parsons is responsible for designing and building the expanded light rail system, which includes three new rail lines totaling 15 mi of LRT, 24 stations, and new storage and inspection facilities. We are also responsible for system safety and operational upgrades to the existing 7.5-mi LRT system, acquisition and commissioning of 58 new light rail vehicles, and major renovations to the existing operations center. In addition, we are in charge of safety and quality assurance, and we manage the community outreach and small business participation programs.

During the design phase, Parsons suggested and implemented an alternative alignment using the existing Harrisburg underpass to the East End to avoid a costly public utilities impact, saving the customer the cost of a new LRT bridge.

Noteworthy project features include:

  • Largest current design-build transit project in the United States
    • Eight light rail bridges (total length of 1 mi) and one underpass
    • Roadway and sidewalk improvements along the guideway (62 lane-miles) and 87 signalized at-grade crossings
    • 36 mi of public utilities (water/storm/sewer)
  • Design and construction of multiple LRT lines simultaneously under one project
  • Unique organizational structure for the different facets of the program, providing integrated solutions at every step of design and construction
  • Very aggressive schedule
  • First transit design-build project led by Parsons
Vehicle clearance testing in Houston’s East End

Vehicle clearance testing in Houston’s East End

Model for Future Transit Projects

This project has high visibility in the greater Houston area, and Parsons has implemented careful planning to minimize impacts during construction to keep Houston “open for business.” In addition, we are managing this project so that it becomes a model for future transit projects and a catalyst for community development, job opportunities, and long-term prosperity in the neighborhoods and communities along the LRT lines.

The project’s Small Business/Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (SBE/DBE) program maximizes participation and promotes equal opportunity and nondiscrimination while providing opportunities for small businesses to participate in contracting and procurement for the Light Rail Expansion Project. Much of the initial design-build work has been subcontracted to local SBEs/DBEs. Our community involvement also offers a construction skills training program to help local residents qualify for construction jobs—156 unemployed residents were trained in construction, and all compliant graduates were placed, 65 of them on the project. At the peak of construction, the project employed more than 1,000 workers, including 335 local craft labor new hires and 250 subcontractor employees. This strong commitment to local economic and community development goals has provided real jobs for local workers, helping the project exceed its base goal of awarding more than $255 million to SBEs/DBEs.

Another innovation is the “Rally around the Rails” campaign, designed to promote the businesses along the rail lines while construction is under way. In addition to these innovations, the project exemplifies Parsons’ other core values:

  • Houston METRO’s independent safety auditor has consistently given the project high marks for construction site safety—the Parsons-led team has had only one lost-time accident in more than 2 million hours of self-performed work.
  • Parsons’ multilevel quality assurance and quality control program for construction activities and materials ensures the highest quality in design and construction.
  • Our strong contract compliance group continues Parsons’ reputation for integrity by implementing all contract requirements to our customer’s satisfaction while meeting all federal and local regulations.
  • The project’s diverse work force represents Houston’s diverse population mix; our small business participation to this point has paid more than $272 million to 589 local SBEs/DBEs on more than 1,000 subcontracts and purchase orders.
  • The expanded LRT is central to Houston’s plan to meet its transportation and environmental challenges, ease its traffic congestion, and improve its air quality.
Entry into Houston’s East End featuring mural by Daniel Anguilu

Entry into Houston’s East End featuring mural by Daniel Anguilu

Award-Winning Community Outreach

Parsons is also managing the project’s substantial community outreach program to communicate Houston METRO’s vision for the future as well as disseminate construction information to the traveling public and to businesses and residents along the rail lines. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) recognized Houston METRO with three AdWheel Awards related to this comprehensive community outreach program. And the American Advertising Federation–Houston (AAF-H) lauded the project’s community outreach program with six 2014 ADDY awards. These extensive—and effective—outreach efforts include:

  • Project website
  • Project presentation and exhibits
  • Construction update fliers and community newsletters
  • Development and implementation of a business assistance program to support businesses along the rail lines
  • Safety Awareness Program to educate the public about safety around light rail lines

The community outreach program provides community liaisons who interact with the community, distribute notices of construction activities, and resolve reported issues. During the project’s busiest year, this team averaged 660 inquiries per line, made contact with more than 750 stakeholders, prepared and distributed 230 construction updates, and resolved 96 percent of issues within 48 hours. Parsons also developed and rolled out an award-winning school safety program and general public safety program that focus on awareness of the LRT, safety practices in and around the trains, and the benefits of the transit system. In addition, Parsons assists Houston METRO with the acquisition of the new light rail vehicles, overseeing vehicle design, continuous onsite inspections at the vehicle assembly plants, and commissioning and safety certification when the vehicles are delivered before being placed in revenue service.

North Line began passenger service in December 2013

North Line began passenger service in December 2013

On Budget and Ahead of Schedule

Parsons maintains an integrated program schedule to ensure on-time completion of the project. The renovated operations control center was completed and turned over to Houston METRO in September 2013, and in October 2013 the North (Red) Line was the first of the three light rail extensions to be turned over. The other two lines—the East End (Green) Line extension and the Southeast (Purple) Line extension—are also on or ahead of schedule and planned to be turned over to Houston METRO in late summer 2014. The lines are scheduled to begin passenger service in the fall.

Parsons has worked with Houston METRO since 2008, and we are proud to advance its goals to improve the quality of life for Houston’s residents and workers.