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managed lanes

So what is the capacity of the Katy Freeway these days?

This story was about the increase in the toll on the managed lanes of the Katy Freeway, but there was a tidbit at the end that caught my eye.


When officials started widening the freeway in 2003, at an eventual cost of $2.8 billion, their goal was to ease congestion in one of the area’s most clogged corridors.

The freeway then had 11 lanes and was carrying more than 2.5 times its capacity of 79,000 vehicles per day. Now with 20 lanes in some spots to flow traffic – including the managed lanes and frontage roads – the freeway can handle more vehicles, but demand is increasing as well.

In 2003, the average daily traffic count along I-10 at Wirt Road was 202,500, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. By 2011, the last year for which verified counts are available, the average traffic at Wirt was 274,600, a 35 percent increase.


Yet the freeway still isn’t as congested as it was prior to the widening, said Alan Clark, manager of transportation air quality programs for the Houston-Galveston Area Council.

“It is still vastly better than it was before,” Clark said. “Particularly it is easier to handle incidents. If there was an accident or problem on the freeway before the widening, the whole thing practically shut down.”

So the pre-expansion capacity of the Katy Freeway was 79,000 vehicles per day, and they basically doubled the number of lanes, what is the capacity today? I don’t know if you’d simply double that 79,000 per day figure, or if the math is more complicated than that. It sure would have had to go up quite a bit – like, almost four times as much – to stay ahead of that 274,000 vehicles per day average we’re seeing now. To say the least, I have my doubts about that. I sent an email to Chron reporter Dug Begley to ask about this, but he never replied. My point here is that way back when this expansion was still a twinkle in John Culberson’s eye, critics of the expansion were predicting that traffic levels would quickly rise to fill the extra capacity that was being built. Sure looks to me like they were right. No question, I-10 needed to be expanded, but where do we go from here? The design of the widened I-10 left no room for rail, further widening seems unlikely, and going up with a second deck or down with a tunnel would seem to be prohibitively expensive. Denser development with more and better transit is starting to look pretty good, isn’t it? Maybe we’ll have better luck with that next time.

Is it that bogged down already?

As we know, the long-awaited Katy Freeway managed lanes opened this weekend. This story about its first day of rush-hour operation gives it positive reviews, but what interests me is this:

[Lisa Castaneda, a transportation engineer for the Harris County Toll Road Authority] spent the morning rush observing from the westernmost toll plaza, near Eldridge. She said the regular lanes had an average speed of about 20 mph, but the toll and HOV lanes were moving along at 60 mph.

“It seems that people got their money’s worth if they chose that,” Castañeda said.

Twenty miles an hour? We spent $2.8 billion adding all those lanes and six months after the grand opening traffic was that slow already? I mean, I expected it to bog down eventually, but not that quickly. Help me out here, commuters. Is this really how things are? Thanks.