July 25, 2007
More on the 290 widening

Whether you made it to any of the public comment meetings for the US290 widening or not, you can always go to Intermodality to see Christof's analysis of the project.

If you thought the Katy Freeway expansion was big, wait until you see 290. That's a proposed cross section above, of 610 just south of 290. From left to right: a reserved transitway, 3 frontage road lanes, 1 ramp, a 4-lane direct connect ramp from 290 to I-10, an HOV/toll lane, 8 mainlanes, HOV/toll, 4-lane I-10 connector, ramp, frontage road, and 2 more HOV/toll lanes. That's 30 lanes at this spot, up from 18 today. Between 610 and Beltway 8, there will be 24 lanes, up from 19. And the project will stretch 40 miles, 1 1/2 times as long as the I-10 project.

Yowza. Here's more:

There are some smart things in this project. Setting aside room for transit is a good move, something that should have been done on I-10. The new I-10 direct connector ramps promise to eliminate the merging mess that now prevails on 610 north of I-10. 290, antiquated more or less since it was built, needs help.

Yes! Getting from 290 to I-10 without going through 610 will be a major win. One can only imagine what a huge spaghetti bowl of on- and off-ramps that will entail, but still. This is a fine idea.

The big problem, though -- the reason why maybe 300 filled a room last Monday night for the first of 3 public hearings -- is land. There's no room to widen 290 without taking more of it. In this case, that means displacing 100 houses, 300 apartment units, 2 churches, and 100 businesses. That may be an acceptable price to pay for more traffic capacity. But it is without a doubt a high price.

Much, much higher than that of, say, the Universities rail line. Just a little perspective here.

And, speaking of price: TxDOT estimates the project cost at $1.5 billion. That's a lot of money, but it seems like a low estimate. The 290 project is bigger than the I-10 project, and I-10's price tag is now at $2.6 billion. Of course, the original estimate for I-10 was $1.1, estimated by the same agency that's designing this project. With that cost overrun factor, 290 would be a $3.5 billion project. Time estimates: about 10 years of construction.

You can throw that $1.5 billion estimate in the trash right now. No way this costs less than I-10, given how much bigger this project is and how much more land will need to be bought. I won't be surprised if $3.5 billion is an underbid, too.

Construction is slated to begin in 2011, so there will be plenty of time for much of this to change. But again, if you live in the affected area, be sure to take advantage of the public comment events. I can tell you from my experience with I-45 that TxDOT will listen, but only to loud, sustained, unified voices. Don't count on anyone else to represent your interests in something like this. Once TxDOT is set on a course, it's nigh impossible to get them to veer from it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 25, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

But hey, $1.5 billion is still less than we spend in a week just in Iraq, Chuck. So if the project goes to three or even four bill, well, that's just a few extra days of fightin'emoverthere ...

Or a few less.

Posted by: PDiddie on July 25, 2007 7:14 AM