June 11, 2008
TxDOT rethinks I-69

I suppose my main reaction to this story is what took them so long?

The Texas Department of Transportation said Tuesday it has abandoned plans to build part of the controversial Interstate 69/Trans-Texas Corridor through rural areas north and west of Houston.

Instead, TxDOT said, it will stick to major highways -- principally U.S. 59 -- for most of the route. Through the Houston area, it could stay on U.S. 59 or go on Loop 610 or the planned Grand Parkway.


TxDOT officials had planned to publicly announce the change today after briefing reporters privately Tuesday.

The story broke early, however, after others, including state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Palestine, spoke to news media about the change.

Nichols, a former member of the Texas Transportation Commission, said he sees the change as "a huge victory for the public," KHOU-TV reported.

"I believe utilizing existing infrastructure will be more cost efficient and have far less negative impact on family farms and small communities," Nichols said.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said the change would have little impact on Harris County "because we already have a fully developed U.S. 59 and they're not allowed to go in and toll. They can't lease a highway that's already been built."

The Harris County Toll Road Authority is eager to develop the northwest segment of the planned Grand Parkway, which was being considered as long ago as 2000 as the route for a future Interstate 69. That project was folded into Gov. Rick Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor plan, announced in 2002.

Under legislation enacted by opponents of the corridor idea, the county has first shot at developing the Grand Parkway if it can reach an agreement with TxDOT on its value.

Amadeo Saenz, the department's executive director, said Tuesday that TxDOT is "working closely with HCTRA" on the project. "They are just as interested in getting this built as we are," he said.

Saenz said a large share of the 28,000 comments received in 47 public hearings and 12 town hall meetings along the route expressed opposition to the project.

"A lot of them said, in essence, 'We don't want you, we don't want the route, and we don't want you across our farm,' " Saenz said. "And a lot of people said, 'Why don't you expand 59? You have a perfectly good road in 59.' "

Saenz said he will recommend to the Texas Transportation Commission, which sets policy for TxDOT, that only existing highways, principally U.S. 59, be considered for the route.

"Anything not on an existing highway will be set aside and not moved forward," he said, adding that in the distant future -- perhaps 50 years from now -- that may become necessary.

I suppose Judge Emmett's statement is the answer to my question. This is good news for HCTRA and its grand plans for the Grand Parkway. I'm curious as to what impact on 59's traffic this is projected to have here, given that it's already pretty darned congested and there's apparently no extra capacity for the Houston area in the revised plan. We may have a "fully developed 59", but we also have a very full 59, at least as you approach downtown. What are the plans for that? And no, routing it around 610 instead isn't a good answer.

While it certainly makes sense for TxDOT to change its thinking here, the move to 59 raises a lot of questions that now need to be answered. I hope they're more forthcoming this time around than they were when the TTC was first announced. McBlogger has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 11, 2008 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles