The Houston Press has a nice article on the proposal by local engineer Gonzalo Camacho to redo I-45 from Greenspoint to downtown as a tunnel. What impressed me in this article is how successful Camacho has been at getting skeptics to consider his plan on its merits:
Some of those challenges have been lived out in other U.S. cities, such as Boston, with its infamous Big Dig, the $14.6 billion undertaking completed in 2003 that was plagued by numerous delays and thousands of change orders.
"Big Dig" were the first words out of the mouth of Bob Eury, executive director of the Downtown Management District, when he heard of the plan, Camacho says.
"A lot of folks compare this to the Big Dig, which is preposterous," Camacho says. But, then again, "If someone wants to drop $14 billion in your backyard, you take it."
Eury met with Camacho and [tunnel expert Gerhard] Sauer and was impressed with the concept. He guardedly suggested such a concept could play a role in the future of Houston transportation. "What we might have thought was totally out of the question might not be as out of the question, maybe," Eury said. "That does not necessarily mean it's feasible, but turning it the other way around, it means it's something that could be explored."
What would it take to make it happen?
In the last few months, Camacho has shopped the tunneling idea to folks at the Hines Corporation, Metro, the Houston-Galveston Area Council and HVJ Construction. But his support has grown most noticeably where it is most needed: in the political sphere. Councilman [Adrian] Garcia has met with Camacho several times and even arranged the meeting with [TxDOT engineer Gary] Trietsch. State Representative Jessica Farrar provided the forum in April for Camacho to make his first public presentation. And the most recent neighborhood meeting had an aide to U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee down front taking notes.
Though most agree the tunnel concept's chances are slim to none, no one is writing off an upset, either. "Things like this tend to get adopted when a visionary elected official takes an interest in it," [executive director of Harris County's Public Infrastructure Department Art] Story says. "It needs a champion."
One thing I want to add to this story:
There's a little something for everyone in Camacho's solution. Sinking a portion of I-45 into a tunnel eliminates the need for more right-of-way, the primary fear of frontline homeowners. A tunnel could be constructed faster than a typical highway and more cheaply than a depressed or stacked system -- though a traditional flatland expressway is still the cheapest. Eliminating on- and off-ramps would make driving safer. And air treatment would help clean the skies by removing up to 90 percent of the solids in tunnel exhaust.
Eliminating on/off ramps means that the tunnels will be "limited access" meaning that the tunnels will not have as many on/off ramps. Therefore traffic will have a clear path for longer distances without having the interference of vehicles getting off and on the tunnel.
There are three segments along I-45 that have different environments: Downtown area, I-10 to 610 historic residential, and north of 610 which is commercial.
The basic idea is to turn the existing at-grade highway into a boulevard, two or three lanes in each direction which will provide as much access as there is now and probably at higher speeds. The design is fairly simple but complex to explain.
In any case, there could be three different design alternatives for the at-grade boulevard, depending on each area.
UPDATE: Sorry to post this so late, but the Art Official Intelligence show on 90.1 KPFT right now is talking about the tunnel, among other things. I'll try to see if I can find an archive to the show later on.Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 16, 2005 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack