John Wilson, president of the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention and a member of the I-45 Coalition, told the 60 attendees the coalition must continue to be proactive in dealing with the expansion project.
"Last fall we had a lot of dialogue," Wilson said. "We got answers to questions before regional approval was granted. TxDOT conceded at the very last meeting to answer our questions.
"We got initial assessments of right-of-way impacts, we got an initial analysis for arterial improvements and we got an explanation of cost estimates."
Wilson said that while initial cost estimates for the project were about $15 million per mile, that estimate is now $70 million per mile, which would make the project a $2.1 billion undertaking.
Addressing concerns about the potential taking of right of way, Wilson said the current width of I-45 and its access roads is 225 feet.
TxDOT's preferred configuration for the expanded freeway includes 247 feet.
"The point is they have not met the objective (of staying within existing right of way), but they've come close," he said.
Jim Weston, president of the I-45 Coalition, said the goal of the design workshop was to not only brainstorm potential ideas for the expansion, but also keep residents aware they need to remain vigilant.
He said the coalition would present the ideas produced at the workshop to TxDOT.
"We're not trying to come to a consensus," he said. "We're just trying to determine what people want."
Some of the ideas floated at the workshop included covering the portion of the freeway that runs underground near North Main, and adding greenspace, as well as eliminating some of the access roads and feeder streets.
"There are downsides to those ideas too," he said. "If you take away some access or feeder streets, you're potentially limiting access to businesses."
TxDOT is in the schematic planning and environmental study phase of the project, which is expected to take two years.
As part of that phase, the department is required to host two "scoping meetings" that will be open to the public.
Those meetings have yet to be scheduled, but are expected to be held in the late summer.