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Advocacy, FHWA, I-45, State / Federal, TxDOT

CTC Comments Summary: re IH-45 all segments (NORTH HOUSTON HIGHWAY IMPROVEMENT PROJECT)

CTC uses its information gathering and advocacy principles to develop formal comments and a position paper regarding TxDOT’s proposal for IH-45 redesign from downtown Houston to beyond Beltway 8.

This is the Summary section of our comments. At this stage of TxDOT’s planning, CTC thinks this project needs significant design work to make it functional. HGAC and other stakeholders agree that the project needs more design work, eg improve toll lane access; do not cut off loading docks to Geo R Brown Convention Center.

May 31, 2015

Director of Project Development
TxDOT District Office

The Citizens’ Transportation Coalition (CTC) respectfully submits the following comments regarding the plans and drawings at the 4th Meeting for the IH-45 Project (NORTH HOUSTON HIGHWAY IMPROVEMENT PROJECT (CSJ 0912-00-146)).

CTC is a Houston-based, all-volunteer nonprofit transportation organization which advocates multi-modal transportation infrastructure, processes, and solutions that improve access to mobility and quality of life for all. We are committed to the idea that public participation leads to better projects. Since 2004, we have worked to engage residents of the 8-county Houston-Galveston (H-GAC) area in the planning of transportation projects that affect our neighborhoods.

 

Summary

  • CTC thinks that using MAP-21, which was just sprung on the citizens in April 2015 for this project, requires the greatest of caution. The public disclosure and involvement process for this project is too unfinished and too radical to proceed to a DEIS without more fact gathering, public meetings, public disclosures, and input. Much greater efficiency and use of the facilities could be achieved by listening to and integrating downtown, neighborhood, and commercial users preferences while giving up little.
  • This project does not provide an adequate LOS improvement in terms of increase in speeds to warrant its cost, but it does provide safety improvements downtown, and it does promote efficient, multi-use use of the ROW where roads are going to be depressed. Some of the alignment features in Segment 2 are actually counterproductive to safety and need to be changed.
  • The 610/IH-45 interchange ought to be built as one of the first features of the project since it is inherently unsafe.
  • CTC applauds TxDOT’s plans to rebuild the bridges across the corridor.
  • The drainage, flooding, noise, and other environmental issues requiring abatement or mitigation are not usually presented until after the DEIS; this will have to change with MAP-21. The abatement and mitigation plans will have to be modeled and documented and disclosed with the DEIS because of the lack of further public involvement after the DEIS hearings.
  • CTC applauds the use of depressed highway segments and thinks they will do much to promote quality of life and aesthetics that attract business, but since IH-45 is a hurricane evacuation route, the project will need studies of the use of the access roads, adequate drainage and pump horsepower.
  • The managed lanes are not optimally designed for access and revenue and appear to serve as sort of a NAFTA highway. More access options for passenger vehicles, heavy trucks, and transit to make shorter toll trips need to be examined for cost and feasibility. Multi-modality is the law of the land, and use of public funds require support of it.
  • The complex $3Billion Segment 3 design, which is slated to be built first, was just sprung on the public at the April meetings, and is definitely not ready to be adopted as a Preferred Alternative in a DEIS. The downtown Segment 3 is focused more on creating a sort of large circulator to get folks from one highway to another, than with its equally important use of promoting mobility and efficient use of transportation to downtown. Changes are necessary, and they are not mere design refinements that TxDOT can handle outside of public scrutiny and input in Reevaluations.
  • It would help if multiple meetings were held with HNTB and stakeholders—owners and public users– (regardless of how many have already been held) to find out how the streets are actually used downtown. Stadiums, courthouses, and planned dense residences on the east side need better connectors to this system; loading docks to Geo R Brown are blocked. The City has produced its Inner Loop Mobility Study that should be consulted to glean information about traffic patterns.
  • Rethinking should be done about the Pierce Elevated: access by Memorial Drive is cut off. It may be that TxDOT thinks it can sell this land to pay for the downtown segment. It should disclose that.
  • We have to protect our downtown from further hollowing out. Twenty-first century access and aesthetics can be combined and HNTB has the brains to do it. CTC strongly supports the depressed areas of the freeway project and making more efficient use of our earth’s footprint for transportation but wish lists for parks and ROW abandonment may not be the most efficient use. The transportation co-benefit and use of the land as a multi-modal facility (commuter rail, HSR, bus, light rail transit center) either at Geo R Brown or Pierce Elevated should be considered. That could well be worth the funds TxDOT would derive by selling the Pierce Elevated land to land developers.
  • Certain planned access (entrance/exit) design changes in the Segment 2 create demonstrably unsafe conditions for residents and run counter to long-time, historical use, so more design changes are needed here. For example, there is no justifiable corridor purpose in changing Houston to a one way street. Eliminating the Quitman exit in favor of Main which has a light rail on it will drive heavy truck traffic to Main and the light rail or to cut through the neighborhoods at schools.
  • The Segment 1 ROW takings need to be examined and made public as to cost. Businesses slated for taking seem to be cherry-picked based on flood plain maps lacking granularity and data support. Segment 1 continues with the antiquated process of building feeder roads which are a magnet for new development and further congestion. This congestion has to be incorporated into the LOS predictions. In all areas environmental impacts and necessary permits and noise and flooding abatement and increased detention measures have to be presented to the public.

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