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The city transit board chose to build the nation's first urban monorail system - patterned after one at Walt Disney World in Florida - rather than a more conventional rail system.

The nine-member Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority approved the $1.27 billion monorail on a 5-4 vote Thursday, shortly after rejecting a slightly less expensive light rail system similar to San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit system.Construction is scheduled to begin in 1993, with the first leg to be finished about three years later.

"I think their selection of monorail is a good choice for Houston and will help our futuristic view of the city," said Mayor Kathy Whitmire.

The Walt Disney World monorail carries some 200,000 tourists a day across the Orlando, Fla., resort.

Board member P.J. Lionetti opposed the monorail.

"I don't want to be Disneyland 3," Lionetti said. "I want a system that will be uniquely ours."

The monorail, with cars traveling about 31 mph, would link downtown Houston with the upscale Galleria commercial area to the west and the Texas Medical Center southwest of downtown.

Tom Stone of the Orlando-based Transportation Group Inc., which would help build the system, called Thursday's decision a "real milestone for the city."

Houston has debated the need for a rail system for 13 years, spending $70 million on studies and taking two public votes on the subject.

A bill mandating a third, more specific vote is pending in the Texas Legislature.