Research and discussion for citizens and decision makers

How would you spend $350 million?

Toll road on the prairie? Or?

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Let’s say you found $350 million and wanted to do a great transportation project for the Houston region. Would you build a 400-foot-wide 15-mile segment of new highway across the Katy Prairie where almost no one lives or works in order to enable a lot of new sprawl development? Or would you build new commuter rail service on the tracks paralleling US 290 to serve nearly a million people today?

Or would you use it to do a bunch of projects that we don’t otherwise have money for right now, like re-build State Highway 6 and FM1960 from I-10 to I-45? If you do all the fixes that are proposed for that corridor, you’d have $315 million left. What then? Do 2920? Provide Bus Rapid Transit express service on 1960?

There’s more you can do
See the next section for background, and then go to the bottom for info about a public comment session you can attend, and how to submit comments in writing by email, phone, or postal service.

$350 Million “Found” for SH99 Toll Road
The Texas Transportation Commission, which “found” this $350 million (in the midst of vast handwringing and angst about having no money for new TxDOT projects) wants to spend it all on building some more of the 186-mile long State Highway 99 (branded as Le Grande Parkway) around the netherlands of the Houston region, a $6 billion project that touches only three (Mont Belvieu, Alvin, Baytown) of the region’s 134 towns and cities, which is where most of the people live. Nor does it approach any of the top 25 job centers in the region, where most of the people work.

Billy Burge, who chairs the effort to build it, told StreetsBlog that right now there isn’t much need for the segment, in terms of traffic, and “It will increase sprawl but that’s really the reason people come to Houston.” But Burge and the sprawl lobby, led by Parkway Investments CEO Ned Holmes (who is also a TTC Commissioner) says this has to go forward right now is that Exxon Mobil wants it, and soon. The company is anxious to move its US headquarters out of the City of Houston into unincorporated Harris County, and Harris County’s elected officials are presumably thrilled about that.

It’s exciting that TTC has found this $350 million, but it raises this ugly question: Is SH 99 the best way to spend it? The projected cost of the US 290 commuter rail line is $348 million, so if you used it for that you’d have $2,000 left over. Or how much would a new express bus service on Westheimer/Elgin from Cinco Ranch to Mykawa cost? Or Bus Rapid Transit service on I-10 from Katy to Baytown?

TXDOT Public Meeting
And while you’re thinking about it, be sure to consider going to TxDOT’s public meeting to talk about the 2011-2014 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) on Wednesday May 25. TxDOT says “All interested citizens are invited to attend and express their views on the program.”

You can go here to get deep info about the STIP.

The meeting is from 4-6 pm, Wednesday, May 25, at the TxDOT–Houston District Auditorium, 7600 Washington Avenue. Be sure to go and talk about how you’d like them to spend that $350 million.

At least send some comments to Texas Department of Transportation, Attention: Lori Morel, 118 East Riverside Drive, Austin, Texas, 78704, or by email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).  Comments must be received by 5 pm Monday, June 6, 2011.

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.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) said:

I love toll roads,but Texas has to stop consuming all our transportation resources on roads. Rail makes sense. TXDOT needs to hand over the cash.

Posted on May 20, 11 at 7:22 am

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) said:

i think they should inprove the roads in pearland, alvin and friendswood and try to inprove the traffic flow along I45 south and maybe in improve the interchanges at 610 and almost all its major highway but mostly at 288 and at 45 south.  they should use the money to improve the flow of traffic on belt way 8 at 288 and fort bend toll way

Posted on May 20, 11 at 8:05 am

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) said:

Maybe SH 99 isn’t the best thing to spend this money on, but commuter rail would be a much worse way to spend $350 million.  I live downtown, and NO ONE, rides the rails down there. I agree though that easing traffic on 290 should be addressed.

Posted on May 20, 11 at 9:58 am

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) said:

I am against building the segment of the Grand Parkway from I-10 to 290. I live out there to avoid sprawl and do not want road- building to encourage it.

I am in favor of a commuter rail line into Houston along 290. That is desperately needed to reduce commuting time into Houston

Posted on May 20, 11 at 11:25 am

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) said:

New train station / Metro rail downtown ;included for non-stop monorail line to Busch and Hobby Airports.
Not taking peoples properties ; all above ground out of the way motor vehicles no traffic accidents or high water problems.

Posted on May 20, 11 at 5:19 pm

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) said:

Connect South Sam Houston Toll road east and west bound with288 South Frwy and install Metro Park and Ride HOV lanes in 288 South Frwy from Downtown Houston south to Freeport.
Traffic on 288 South Frwy is stop and go parking lot , bumper to bumper every morning and evening from S.MacGregor Way south to Pearland FM518.
This should be designed as an Evacuation route for Gulf Coast alternative to I-45.
Elevate section on 288 South where it goes under water these days.

Posted on May 20, 11 at 5:27 pm

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) said:

Build elevated access to Medical Center via elevated freeway ramps from 610 S.Loop Frwy and 288 S.Frwy for all emergency vehicles and designated emergency personel.
Won’t have to worry about high water flooding, traffic and access.

Posted on May 20, 11 at 5:33 pm

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) said:

Here is a copy of the email I sent to Ms. Morel at TXDot.  I cannot attend the meeting, but feel free to include any content or the fact of of my letter in your response-presentation at the meeting.

Dear Ms. Morel:
As a citizen of greater Houston and an engineer who commutes, as many others do, to the ship channel industrial zone daily, I want to express my disagreement with the construction of a new highway to the far west in Harris County.  An objective consideration of this project in the context of overall current and future economic trends indicate this is not sustainable development.  Clearly, this decision would increase the “sprawl” of greater Houston and do nothing to direct and encourage smart development.  Whether or not you believe fossil fuel resource depletion worldwide and/or carbon constraints are going to impact the way development occurs, there is no question that transportation energy and efficiency need to be addressed for the coming decades.

And, this decision will have ramifications for decades, when undoubtedly energy costs will rise rapidly.  When mass transit is expanded, the market forces foresee today will direct growth development in a more logical and efficient locations accessible to that transit and people here, as in other parts of the country, will adapt to the necessity of locating themselves in more optimum places relative to their work.  Already, in greater Houston, we see the large differences in real estate-land prices (per sq. ft.) in close-in, more convenient locations, ie. inside the loop, versus exurbia, outer suburban areas.  There are many areas already developed in greater Houston with room for densification of residences and businesses and it is more important and an optimum use of limited public funding to improve the transportation efficiencies to, from and within those areas !

This week the president of Houston Tomorrow in an editorial suggested that a better use of the proposed SH 99 funding would be for commuter rail along hwy. 290 - I heartily agree.  Also, improvements to certain highways that already exist could be better use of part of this funding resource.  We really don’t need extensive new highways taking up land that has other potentials, future agriculture and pasture land, being two critical uses.  The people of greater Houston voted some years ago to approve a light rail system-grid in several directions, and it is frustrating how slow the execution of such projects are progressing.  Commuter rail would tie-in to such a system and along with existing metro bus lines would seriously address Houston’s existing and growing mobility crisis.

I understand that one biased proponent of the SH 99 project is Exxon-Mobil who want to build a headquarters in the area.  I think public policy makers should encourage Exxon-Mobil to consider other locations that already have infrastructure in place and will give their employees much better options for mobility to work and if especially when transferred or traveling back and forth to other Exxon-Mobil sites already in the Houston area.  Two such possibilities are downtown and West Chase.  Furthermore, while a headquarters may sound attractive, today, for many corporations the headquarters staffing is quite lean and greater Houston already has many job intensive Exxon-Mobil sites such as research centers and the Baytown refinery.  We don’t need their headquarters so badly that we should abandon sustainable development and prudent planning.

Very truly yours,

Mark Thiel, P.E., B.S.E., M.S., Chemical Engineer
Bellaire, TX

Posted on May 21, 11 at 11:09 am

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) said:

If we look back at history… teaches us a distasteful lesson:  The method of the distasteful urban sprawl that has led to our bountiful growth is building the 400 ft 15 mile roadway.  That has been the key since the 1960s….. not the politically correct answer, but a fact of life for the success of the Houston Market; also no zoning fits in there the same way.  So while the pill of success is bitter to swallow, we have to make choices that are sometimes not favorable, yet we still stay here and enjoy the fruits of our successes…..YOU DON’T SEE TOO MANY MOVING BACK UP NORTH OR TO CALIFIRNIA…DO YA?

Posted on May 22, 11 at 7:02 am

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) said:

Do not build the the environmentally harmful sprawl access road across the Katy Prairie. The Grand Parkway should be halted permanently. We don’t need any more freeways, tollways, or new Interstate Highways.  We can’t even keep our existing highways, roads and streets in good repair.

ALL future major ground transportation projects should be rail: urban light or heavy rail within the city, Regional Commuter Rail from the city to the surrounding areas, and intercity (both conventional that serves the towns and high speed that only connect the major cities).

There should be an immediate and permanent end to any new components the make up sprawl: subdivisions that only contain houses, strip centers, shopping malls, big box retail, office parks, and anything with a parking lot in the front or surrounding it.  People come first, not cars.

Posted on May 25, 11 at 12:18 am

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) said:

To complete the plan of the Grand Parkway is an argument between two opposing philosophies. One being to use tax dollars to force increase population density producing more congestion and the other is to increase mobility aiding suburban sprawl. Neither is all good or all bad. I believe most Texans prefer to avoid driving downtown just to go north or south, east to west. The great success of the Sam Houston Parkway is a testament to that. Toll roads are a good blend between user and tax dollar. Basically more bang for the buck!

Posted on May 26, 11 at 12:03 pm

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) said:

The day of the automobile as a substitute for mass transit is over.  Any type of mass transit is preferable to more ‘tollways to nowhere’.  The Kay Prairie needs many things more than it needs more cement.

Posted on May 26, 11 at 2:05 pm

Rick said:

Take a look at who REALLY rides the mass transit systems so far & you’ll realize that the majority of people in the NW area will not be using it… let’s face it - people in this part of the country like their cars & want the freedow of traveling where ever they want to, before, durring or after work hours.

Posted on May 26, 11 at 10:06 pm

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) said:

I believe that building SH99 is very important to the region. it will help relieve US 290 and provide a link from US59 to I-45 N

Posted on May 27, 11 at 11:58 am

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) said:


Posted on Jun 03, 11 at 3:18 pm

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