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Hardy Toll Road extension gets final OK

After many years of planning, a project to extend the Hardy Toll Road all the way into downtown is finally headed to the drawing board.

The Harris County Toll Road Authority is seeking the court’s permission to begin final negotiations with two railroads to relocate a track north of downtown, clearing the way for the 3.6-mile connector.

Moving a section of track along Maury Street and buying land around it, owned by Houston Belt & Terminal Railway Co. and Union Pacific Railroad Co., would cost a projected $130 million, said Peter Key, director of the toll road authority.

“Obviously, the hard part of the Hardy Toll Road was getting that final leg into downtown,” Key said. “It’s just greater mobility between the central business district and even points south of there, say, the medical center, and the north side of Houston, the airport.”

[…]

Work on the Hardy connector could then begin in 2013. Construction would take about two years, officials said.

The North Freeway “is already one of the most congested roads in the state of Texas,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, a former transportation consultant. “Ultimately, as (U.S.) 59 gets more and more congested, we are going to need another north-south way into and out of downtown, and Hardy’s going to be it.”

Northbound travelers would access the road from the Eastex Freeway or downtown from Crawford Street, which becomes the Elysian Viaduct. The Texas Department of Transportation plans to rebuild Elysian where it crosses Buffalo Bayou.

Drivers inbound on the new road would be able to head north or south on U.S. 59 or could enter downtown on Elysian, which becomes La Branch Street.

The Court’s approval comes nearly four years after City Council gave its go ahead to the road work. My post from that time contains a link to this map of the extension from the Chron story, which still works. Here’s a Google map of the area, and the Houston Politics blog has an even better look. Back in 2007 I was confused about why the extension would connect into 59 and not I-10, but I think I understand it now. From that point on I-10, there’s no exit into downtown, whereas from 59 you can get off at Minute Maid and at McGowan. The main downside to this is that this particular section of 59, between I-10 and I-45, is already terribly congested. Exiting at Elysian north of I-10 might be the better option, though I’ll bet that gets crowded pretty quickly as well. Hey, you can’t have everything. The North Line light rail extension should be done by 2015 as well (please, please, pretty please) so at least folks who live in that area will have a good option to get downtown without getting stuck in all that traffic.

Speaking of folks who live in the affected area:

Fernando Cisneroz Jr., longtime president of the North Central Civic Association, said he has heard little opposition to the project. Some neighbors are nervous about traffic after the Hardy connector and the viaduct are built or replaced, he said.

“That’s an awful lot of access – it runs right through our neighborhood, and we’re going to be faced with additional traffic coming through,” he said. “We don’t know what kind of noise issues that’s going to cause.”

Cisneroz said he’s “not opposed to people taking an easy route home,” but said if the neighborhood is to accept some negative affects of construction, it should be balanced with some positives, such as new park space.

I hope the lack of opposition comes from general satisfaction with the plan, and not from lack of knowledge about it. I agree that they deserve some mitigation as part of the package, too. We’ll see how it goes.

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