The Texas Department of Transportation is receiving public comment regarding the expansion of highway I-45, and local residents are getting involved, according to The Leader:
Whether they’ll see managed traffic decks, lanes, tunnels, bridges or other future infrastructural changes hasn’t been decided yet, but U.S. Interstate 45 Corridor residents – including those in the eastern neighborhoods of the Heights – are tenaciously working to shape that highway’s future.
About 100 residents of neighborhoods along I-45, from Beltway 8 to downtown Houston gathered last Wednesday night at Jefferson Davis High School, 1101 Quitman, to hear — or question or comment on — the Texas Department of Transportation’s North Houston Highway Improvement Project’s alternatives.
It was the second public meeting in which TxDoT presented alternative infrastructure methods for three segments of I-45 spanning 16 miles from downtown through Greenspoint. After the first meeting and reading public comments, the list of alternatives was reduced from 33 to 18, said meeting host Jim Weston, president of I-45 Coalition Inc. The second meeting’s objective was to help TxDoT further cull the alternatives from six for each of the three segments to three.
“TxDoT has been trying to come up with a plan to relieve congestion on I-45,” Weston said, adding that a feature of the plan is to respect existing right-of-way wherever possible, to expand managed traffic lanes such as toll or HOV lanes and to consider tunnel construction.
“The project has three segments and each segment has six choices,” Weston said. “The key thing to all this is to let them know what you want them to do.”
Patrick Henry, the project’s director at TxDoT, said the project would also impact portions of Interstate 10, the 610 Loop and U.S. 59, but details, such as projected costs, have not been determined.
The six alternatives for Segment One along I-45, from Beltway 8 to the 610 Loop at I-45, include widening existing lanes with elevated managed lanes at I-45 and Hardy Toll Road, widening and adding managed lanes and constructing managed elevated lanes.
Concepts for Segment Two, from Loop 610 to I-10, includes widening existing lanes, widening existing with elevated managed lanes, adding a tunnel with four managed lanes and adding a direct connector at the Loop 610 Corridor from I-45 to Hardy Toll Road.
Both Segments One and Two include alternatives that call for the widening of Hardy Toll Road to provide an additional inbound and additional outbound lanes, Henry said.
Segment Three, the downtown loop system, currently includes alternatives that would convert an existing downtown loop to a one-way loop and add tunneled roadways underneath La Branch, Bagby and Jefferson streets.
Alternatives for Segment Three also includes widening an existing eight-lane section from I-10 to the junction of I-45 and U.S. 59.
“Much of the corridors are not up to standard,” Henry said. “We got rid of shoulders in the 1970s to make room for rail. Now we will consider three alternatives from each segment next year. Again, all this is conceptual. We don’t have a lot of details.”
He added that going through the environmental process will take years, then the project will be built in phases as money becomes available.
“Cost-wise, I can’t picture it,” said Paul Kellog, who lives in downtown Houston. “But they’ve done a really great job of bringing the visuals and showing how they fit within the project.”
“If all of us tonight wan the tunnel options — is that a realistic alternative?” asked Viula Torgerson, a Heights resident.
Henry said the public comments are vitally important in TxDoT’s ultimate decision-making process.
Tami Merrick, a First Ward resident who has attended both TxDoT meetings for the North Houston Highway Improvement Project, said she was amazed at how little her neighbors knew about the plans to improve I-45.
“When I went through my neighborhood and handed out flyers about the meeting, people had no idea this was in the works,” Merrick said.