Well, ready or not…
State highways officials set out in 2004 to develop a plan to remake Interstate 45 and add managed lanes, only to face increasingly stiff opposition in the past three years from elected officials and community activists that its plan was out of step with future travel needs.
New plans to add managed lanes along Interstate 10 along a corridor inside Loop 610 took only days to get that same response.
The Texas Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Transit Authority are jointly presenting plans for a so-called Inner Katy Corridor, a project to remake the 10-lane freeway — five lanes in each direction supported by frontage roads and entrance and exit ramps — by building dedicated bus lanes, adding two managed lanes in each direction and upgrading drainage along depressed portions of the freeway.
“The commitment remains to moving the same number of single-occupant vehicles at high speed,” said Neal Ehardt, a freeway critic who advocates a more urban-focused approach that includes downsizing major highways. “We are keeping the same number of single-occupant car lanes and we are adding managed lanes. This is not the mode transition we want. It is more like mode bloat.”
Officials counter that it is a necessary step — and an unconventional one for TxDOT — to stay within the existing freeway footprint as much as possible but meet demand. They understand there are some that believe no additional lanes are needed, said James Koch, director of transportation planning and development for TxDOT’s Houston office.
“That is a nice goal to have, but where we are today, we are not there,” Koch said. “We still have traffic and congestion today and we are dealing with those things. I understand the passion those folks have, but not everybody wants to get on the bus.”
Comments for this phase can be submitted to TxDOT or Metro until March 31. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials created a virtual meeting room, also available until March 31.
Planners have three objectives for the eventual project along the I-10 corridor:
- Building dedicated bus lanes along the freeway to extend Metro’s bus rapid transit from the Northwest Transit Center near Loop 610 to downtown Houston.
- Improving drainage along the segment where I-10 is below local streets, from Patterson to Loop 610.
- Adding two managed lanes in each direction and improving carpool access by eliminating any gaps where HOV drivers mingle with general traffic.
Those objectives would be broken up into multiple projects, likely with different timelines.
Metro’s bus lanes, for example, already are funded via the transit agency’s capital budget and money controlled by the Houston-Galveston Area Council, which distributes some federal highway funding. Provided Metro is ready to proceed, construction of the $227.5 million bus lane project is set to begin in 2023 and open in 2025, according to H-GAC’s five-year plan.
TxDOT’s managed lanes are not included in upcoming spending plans, with officials saying the current timeline would be to start construction in 2027. The goal, Koch said, is for TxDOT to have some idea of what people prefer so the Metro bus lanes can be built without interfering with what the state constructs in the future.
The transit lanes have a chance to radically improve the quality of bus rides in the corridor and the region, said Christof Spieler, an urban planner and former Metro board member.
Relative to past freeway discussions, he said, TxDOT is part of a larger conversation about how various projects are coming together, ultimately to determine how Houston grows.
“There are signs in there of TxDOT being more creative than in the past,” Spieler said.
I’m going to wait and see on this one, based on Spieler’s comments. The Metro bus lanes, which were part of the 2019 Metro referendum, are a must-have. I think everyone would like to see drainage improved for this stretch of highway. It’s adding the managed lanes that are going to cause the heartburn, since that either means widening I-10 (which would take up to 115 more feet of right-of-way, according to the story), or adding elevated lanes (which would still need 45 feet) and adding concerns about noise and visual blight. My advice is to attend any public meetings and give your input while you can, because it’s going to be time to start building before you know it.