For the money, I sure hope so

News flash: Travel times on the newly-expanded Katy Freeway have improved.

The expansion of 23 miles of roadway along the Katy was completed in October. The $2.8 billion project took five years to complete and added 18 lanes between the Loop and Texas 6. Each direction has four main lanes, three frontage road lanes and two toll lanes.

TTI researchers compared commutes before construction began in June 2003 to average speed and travel times in November 2008.

Darrell Borchardt, a TTI senior research engineer, concluded that morning commutes for eastbound travelers between Barker Cypress and the West Loop had improved by 13 minutes and 12 minutes in the evening.

For westbound drivers, the morning time savings was just four minutes, but jumped to 18 minutes during the evening. Midday travel times also showed improvements of six minutes headed eastbound and five minutes westbound.

Well, of course travel times have improved. I’ve experienced that myself on the rare occasions when I have the need to use the Katy west of the loop. (Inside the loop, not so much.) That was never in doubt. The question has always been whether it would be worth the cost – and here I’m not just talking about the much more than initially advertised dollar amount of $2.8 billion, I’m also talking about the cost of the environmental impact and the opportunity cost of not including room for a commuter rail line in the future – and how sustainable this is. The pre-construction Katy Freeway once had adequate throughput, too. How long will it be before the old familiar complaints about rush hour traffic begin anew?

One more thing:

“Opening up the Katy Freeway has been a tremendously effective way to strengthen our economy and improve our quality of life,” U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, credited with advancing the expansion project, said in a statement. “It’s given us more time on the job and more time with our families.”

Yes, you might even say that all that government spending has had a stimulative effect on the local economy. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

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One Response to For the money, I sure hope so

  1. Jay says:

    It’s kind of interesting that TTI chose not to study the travel time in 2005 in the middle of construction. A key loss to the region of projects like this is the actual impact on congestion and air pollution during five years of construction and a responsible assessment of the congestion impact of a project should include a much fuller life cycle than just before construction and just after construction. Choosing those two data points will always give you the best results if you want to encourage more freeway expansion.

    Also, subsidizing suburban development in this manner always causes more people to live further away from their jobs and other destinations.

    If we wanted to really assess the effect of this project, we might follow Representative Culberson’s suggestion and study how much time people are actually spending in their cars. I’m pretty sure that his statement would not turn out to be true.

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