January 14, 2008
The homestretch for the Katy Freeway expansion

Hard to believe since I know it feels like it's been under construction forever, but the Katy Freeway widening project is coming to an end this year, at least if things go as planned. A couple of thoughts from the story:

Officials of Memorial City Mall and Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center, both at Gessner and the freeway, said the construction has been a challenge for their clients and employees.

They also said the Texas Department of Transportation has kept them informed about closures and detours and, in some instances, been able to address their concerns.

The end result will be "much easier, more convenient access for everyone," mall spokeswoman Sherry Burton-Fowler said.

Jeff Nowlin, the hospital's chief operating officer, said TxDOT helped keep access open for ambulances and patients.

"One time they wanted to take the feeder road down to one lane," Nowlin said. "We asked them to limit the number of lanes they close, and they agreed to that."

However, he also said the number of emergency room patients is down, and some ambulance personnel have reported difficulties reaching the hospital. "But we can't tie the two together," Nowlin said.

Raquelle Lewis, spokeswoman for the project, said TxDOT has honored its pledge to keep the same number of main lanes open during the work as before it began.

I don't know if their experiences are representative of all those along the freeway, but if these are the strongest critiques being made by people like that, then TxDOT did a pretty good job of ameliorating the pain. I hope Metro can look back in 2012 and hear similar things from the light rail construction sites.

Construction began in June 2003 and initially was expected to take at least 10 years, but $500 million from the Harris County Toll Road Authority helped cut the schedule in half, [Rep. John] Culberson said.

Although the sum is small compared with the total estimated cost of $2.8 billion, it was crucial in plugging funding gaps. Without the toll dollars, Lewis said, TxDOT would have had to delay other projects or spread the freeway work over a longer time.

For its contribution, HCTRA will operate two EZ Tag lanes in each direction down the middle of the freeway, from Texas 6 to the West Loop.

Although toll fees have not been announced, Lewis said all vehicles in the high occupancy-toll lanes will be tolled, except for Metro buses and carpools with three or more occupants from 6 to 11 a.m. eastbound and from 2 to 8 p.m. westbound.

Let's play Guess The Toll here. The maximum cost for a roundtrip on the Westpark Toll Road appears to be $5.70 after the 25 cent per transaction increase. I'm going to say that a normal daily commute from the far end to the West Loop and back again will lighten your wallet by $7, modulo any fancy congestion pricing schemes. What do you think? Leave your guesses, and I'll check back after the official word comes down.

All of the 442 parcels of land needed for the expansion have been acquired. A majority of those were on the freeway's north side, and the largest concentration was 119 parcels in a three-mile segment roughly from the Sam Houston Tollway to east of Campbell.

Among the businesses that closed are Ciro's Italian Grill and a Fiesta Mart, both at Blalock and the freeway. Fiesta lost one-third of its parking lot and is in court with TxDOT over compensation. Ciro's has relocated across the freeway near Memorial City Mall.

There was an entire strip center at Campbell that went bye-bye. I figure a few businesses that weren't condemned went under during the construction, but I don't know that for a fact. Again, just something to keep in mind when the Metro construction begins.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 14, 2008 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

There was an entire strip center at Campbell that went bye-bye.

Yep and along with it a substantial portion of the commercial tax revenue for the City of Spring Valley. Now that has been largely replaced with a new strip center closer into the loop, but that development has only recently been completed and is thus far lightly occupied. Bad if your Spring Valley but just peachy if you are Katy.

And from the article,

"Opening up the Katy Freeway was like giving west Houston a quadruple bypass," Culberson said. "The result can be seen in the explosion of new business construction, new homes, and the escalating commercial activity and property values."

Asked how long it will take before the new lanes are as clogged as the old ones, Culberson said it will be "some time."

Let's complete the analogy, it's like giving the west side of Houston a quadruple bypass but then prescribing a diet of chicken wings and chili cheese fries.

How long until those arteries clog again? "Some time." which John's short answer for "Beats the hell out of me."

I'll tell you what the TxDOT folks projected at all the public hearings. The added capacity will not be clogged again until 2020-2025. If I were in Vegas I'd take the under.

I recommend they look at 59 between 99 and the beltway. I started to work in Sugar Land in late 2001. Construction to expand the Southwest freeway was in it's final stages at that point and each morning there were a sea of brake lights on the way into Houston. The added lanes increased capacity in 2002 and the transit times improved. But today, when traveling that road it seems almost as crowded as it was back in 2001. It took just over 5 years to almost completely soak up that capacity.

When given the opportunity to treat the disease, Rep. Culberson merely addressed a symptom. John may congratulate himself on the Katy's completion. To me, a constituent, it demonstrates a damning lack of vision.

Posted by: Patrick on January 14, 2008 8:19 AM

Fascinating round of articles published by the Chronk. Note that the numbers did not add to the $2.8 billion cost.
I had the pleasure to drive around I-10 during construction, meaning side streets. I bet most people that had to live through it will be VERY happy to see the end of it.
Simple, traffic growth per year 5% if not more. Then takes 20 years for 100% growth. Katy construction is taking 8 years that means 12 years left, if the lane capacity was doubled. The article says Katy went from 11 to 18 lanes. Five to 10 years is a good estimate for Katy to be at capacity although it will have managed lanes which is a twister in the equation.
I call this highway reconstruction process of expansion the '20 year cycle.'

Posted by: Gonzalo Camacho on January 14, 2008 10:36 AM

Well, if I add up the following numbers, I only get $2.68 billion, so you are right:

- 1.7 billion for construction
- 480 million for right of way costs
- 500 million added by HCTRA for toll lanes (and to help speed up construction?)

At any rate, it's about $135 million per mile. That's a hefty price to pay for 5-10 years of traffic relief.

Posted by: Mike on January 14, 2008 3:03 PM

Just a note Gonzalo: 5% annual growth means that traffic will double in about 14.25 years, not 20, due to compounding. However, judging from the amount of new construction along the corridor, I figure that growth will be greater initially, perhaps 7 - 8%, before leveling off at 5%. If this is correct, we will reach capacity much sooner than you project, which means we should probably start planning the next expansion now.

Posted by: MJM on January 21, 2008 3:25 PM