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Good news on the I-45 front

Via his spiffy new Chron blog, Marty Hajovsky brings some good news about the planned expansion of I-45.

[Jim Weston, president of the I-45 Coalition] also said that after years of back and forth on the Interstate 45 question, the department is investigating an expansion plan that would not significantly impact the Woodland Heights.

The department is expected to announce a series of what they call “scoping meetings” with interested parties sometime before the end of the year in order to garner public input.

“All indications are that they are not going to need additional right of way for this expansion except for two possible areas: the intersection of I-45 and North Main (where an Exxon station and McDonald’s restaurant are right now) and the curve at Little York north of Loop 610,” Weston said.

“They’re doing environmental studies right now, which basically comes down to vibration and impact on historic buildings and sites. The studies are nothing about air quality or the effects of increased traffic, which is what most people think about with ‘environmental.’

“Nothing is for sure until they get through this phase, but it looks positive.”

Weston said one idea being studied is to expand the freeway underneath the existing service roads and then cantilever them over the highway.

“That’s one of the things that they’re studying right now, whether that’s feasible, the costs of it, etc.,” Weston said. “The I-45 Coalition did a study in May and concluded that the community wouldn’t be opposed to getting rid of those things, the service roads, entirely. Right now, there’s no service road farther south than North Main anyway. The neighborhood doesn’t really want to keep the service roads if we have to lose part of the neighborhood to have them.”

In response, Henry wrote a letter to Weston last week saying the study will be a reference as the design process proceeds. But he also said the department will either have to stay within the existing right of way or eliminate the frontage roads, but not both. He wrote that access to the frontage road is “a property right.”

“On IH 45 in this section, the adjacent property owners own the access rights,” Henry wrote. “To buy the access rights from a private property owner, we are required to have a valid transportation need that can stand up in court. This usually means acquiring the property to expand the roadway and buying the access rights.”

Weston said the final design is not here yet, so no one’s breathing easy, but the initial signs are encouraging for the Woodland Heights at least.

“Until the final design happens, nothing is for sure,” he said. “When we get that, the public will be informed and we’ll have the right to give input. But yes, we can do it without impacting the neighborhood.”

Music to my ears. Kudos all around for finding a way to make this happen in a neighborhood-friendly way. And just as a reminder, that urban transit corridor planning meeting I’ve talked about is today.

By the way, Weston sent me a copy of the document they created at that design workshop back in May. You can check it out here (Word doc) if you’d like. Skip ahead to page 13 for a discussion of the North Main/Houston Avenue interchange, which is in desperate need of a complete overhaul.

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