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The Hardy Toll Road extension

This is a long time in coming.

The Houston City Council on Wednesday paved the way for a long-awaited project to extend the Hardy Toll Road the final four miles to downtown from the North Loop.

Without discussion, the panel approved an agreement with Harris County, which will build and pay for the road, allowing it to close certain public streets just north of downtown and west of U.S. 59 to build the extension.

Construction of the $200 million project is scheduled to begin in August 2009 and be completed by the end of 2011. An estimated 32,000 vehicles are expected to use the extension daily.

“It will help us tie our central business district closer to our largest airport and significantly reduce the trip time for people coming in from the airport,” Mayor Bill White said.

The project also will spur economic development in the north part of downtown where traffic exits the road, he said.

County officials said they were able to minimize the number of homes and businesses that had to be razed or moved by configuring the toll road to follow a Union Pacific track and its adjoining land for much of the way into downtown.

But the county could not move forward with the project until the city agreed to close as many as five streets that Union Pacific’s new track will cross.

[…]

The Hardy extension is one of the projects that The Woodlands agreed to help fund as part of a regional participation agreement with Houston. In October, city officials agreed to release the master-planned community from its future boundaries for annexation in exchange for money to fund projects, including regional park and transportation improvements — that benefit both communities.

The community has until November to make an initial payment of $16 million, of which $5 million is dedicated to the Hardy Toll Road.

Officials have envisioned extending the Hardy Toll Road to downtown since it opened.

Vehicles headed downtown will be able to exit onto U.S. 59 east of downtown, and then take the Hamilton exit into downtown, said Mike Perez, who is heading the project for the toll road authority.

Another exit will be built eventually, going along the Elysian Viaduct — which is to be rebuilt — and connecting to La Branch or another street.

Here’s a map of the extension. I’m a little curious as to why it’s connecting to 59 south of I-10, but not to I-10 itself. You’d think the ideal would be to do both. I suppose there’s a logistical reason why not – can anyone comment on that?

Regardless, this makes all kinds of sense, and ought to help relieve some of the pressure on I-45 north of downtown as well. One thing I’m also curious about is the lack of any mention of feedback from the Near Northside neighborhood, which has had issues about proposals to widen the Elysian Viaduct – see here, here, and here (scroll down to Elysian Viaduct Update) for background. There were public meetings held on this back in 2004 and 2005, but for the life of me I couldn’t find any newer information than that. I therefore have no idea if the residents’ concerns had already been adequately addressed, or if they gave up after being steamrolled by the process. Anybody out there know what the deal is with that?

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