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I-45 and US290

Here’s an I-45 update from Jim Weston of the I-45 Coalition:

You may recall reading an article by Rad Sallee in the Houston Chronicle on 9/1/05. The headline was “North Freeway expansion back to drawing board”. (ed. note: See here.) The article reported that Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) was considering moving some, or none or all of the 4 managed lanes planned to go on I-45 to the Hardy Toll Road. (that could be good news!) Gary Trietsch, district engineer for TxDOT was quoted as saying “That will probably take us at least a year. We’ll see where we are a year from now.”

Now fast forward “a year” in 30 days!

On late Friday afternoon, 9/30/05, Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) modified their agenda and added the I-45 revised project to their action item to be considered at their Technical Advisory Committee (TAC). This TAC meeting [was] scheduled to be held on Thursday morning, 10/6/05.

(TAC normally reviews projects and recommends their approval or disapproval to the Transportation Policy Committee (TPC). The TPC must approve the project before it is permitted to progress to the next phase.)

This gave us less than a week to review and analyze a 335 page report. There was not enough time to get that done.

The Mayor’s office and Councilmember Adrian Garcia’s office set up a meeting on Monday afternoon. Participants included neighborhood representatives, TxDOT, CM Garcia, the Mayor’s office, Dr. Carol Lewis (Planning Commission), Congress member Sheila Jackson Lee’s office, Representative Jessica Farrar’s office, Alan Clark from H-GAC and several others. The quick synopsis of the meeting was the community representatives were asking for a 30 day postponement on the consideration of the project, in order to give folks an opportunity to review the revised report.

Bottom line – TxDOT would not agree to postpone the I-45 presentation before TAC.

So elected representatives and their staffs started to work on our behalf. And thanks to probably hundreds of phone calls from dozens of people, TxDOT agreed to reschedule the TAC meeting. It is now going to be held on Friday, October 21st. Then the following week, on Friday, October 28th, it will be presented to the TPC for their approval. Then if approved, it will go to the next phase which will be Schematic Drawings and Environmental Studies. In this phase, TxDOT will start coming up with actual roadway layouts and start to consider alternatives, like a tunnel. This phase is estimated to take 2 to 3 years and public meetings will be held by TxDOT. (And if not … the I-45 Coalition will hold them!)

We are in the process of setting up a small working meeting to have TxDOT go over their changes with us & answer our questions. Plus we will now be having a TxDOT representative attend a portion of our Steering Committee meetings on a monthly basis to help foster better communications.

What are some of the “major” changes? One change was mentioned before – the possibility of moving managed lanes to Hardy Toll Road.

Another major change – TxDOT has re-evaluated the conceptual capital cost of the project. The new estimate has now increased more than 5 times the original – from $404 million to $2.1 billion! At $404 million, the estimate per mile worked out to be $13.5 million a mile (a 30 mile project). Even at $2.1 billion, the new estimate is now $70 million a mile … which may be accurate … it’s definitely closer to a realistic number. (The current Katy Freeway project is around $100 million a mile.)

There are numerous other changes – but we have not had a chance to review and analyze them yet.

If you would like to see the report for yourself, you can find it in two locations. It is a very large file (25+ meg file) and can be found either on the H-GAC website (scroll down to the North Hardy Study) or you can go the TxDOT site and scroll down to Houston then to IH45 / US 59 – (it seems that the H-GAC site downloads quicker).

You do have an opportunity to speak at both the TAC and the TPC meeting. Public comments are heard at the beginning of the each meeting. Concerned residents are encouraged to attend the meeting and sign up to speak. The TAC meeting begins at 9:30 a.m., Friday, October 21, in the second floor conference room of the HGAC offices at 3555 Timmons Lane in the Greenway Plaza area. Speakers must register before the meeting is called to order. The TPC meeting, same place at 9:30 a.m., Friday, October 28.

We will continue to try to make this a cooperative venture – one that can be a win-win for everyone. With continual improvements in communications, we hope that the entire project will improve and these kinds of hurdles will not need to be jumped in the future!!

Well done, I-45 Coalition!

Meanwhile, things are afoot for US290 as well. Christof Speiler has the details. I note with interest that TxDOT seems to be taking an uncharacteristically open approach with this one. Either someone lives out that way that they don’t want to piss off, or they’ve finally learned their lesson. Whichever is the case, good on them for that.

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