Thursday, February 22, 2007

Big plans for 288, but it could be better

Just got back from TXDoT's public meeting on 288 improvements. Unfortunately I didn't get as long as I'd like - I got there at 7:45, and you'd be amazed how fast they shut down the place at 8pm sharp. Generally good news, although I think there's one or two flaws in their plan. First the good items:
  • 4-lane EZ-tag toll road down the median of the existing 288 (almost certainly with congestion pricing)
  • They were very clear to emphasize there will be no tolling on the existing mainlanes
  • New ramps at 610 and Beltway 8 that cleverly combine together traffic from both the free and paid lanes (right exit in the toll lanes, left exit in the free lanes)
  • A particularly cool feeder into the Medical Center: northbound 288 will have a 3-lane exit (!) to 610 westbound. If you stay in the right lane of the exit ramp, it will curve off along the median of Almeda, crossover Holly Hall, and then merge you into Almeda.
  • It also seems well designed to take outbound Med Center traffic south on Fannin, Cambridge, or Almeda, get it onto 610 eastbound and then a ramp with choices into either the free or tolled 288 southbound lanes
  • Current plan is construction start by 2010, with completion in stages between 2012 and 2014
  • Right now the tolled lanes stop just before 59, but the expert we talked to said there is a long-term master plan to connect them up past downtown, to Hardy/45. It was very vague. I have absolutely no idea how that would work other than a tunnel.
There seemed to be one substantial flaw in the plan (at least that I was able to catch with only ten minutes of looking at the posters and talking to one of their experts): if you're commuting out of the Med Center along MacGregor, Holcombe, or OST, and get onto 288 southbound, you're stuck in the congested free lanes until at least a mile or two south of 610 before you have an option of getting into the paid lanes. There seems to be room to offer an exit lane to let you get into the tolled lanes before 610, but they don't have it in the plans. If that concerns you, send an email to hou-piowebmail@dot.state.tx.us before March 9th if you want your comments to carry official weight. I will be doing exactly that.

I do have one other, "bigger picture" concern. 288 is about as single-directional as freeways get in Houston - almost all the traffic is inbound in the mornings, and outbound in the evenings. There aren't a lot of jobs in Brazoria County, and even for the ones there are, not too many of those workers commute south from Houston. That means half the toll road is likely to be pretty much empty at rush hour (why ride in the toll lanes when the counter-flow free lanes are free-flowing?). That's a waste. It seems like it would make more sense to build four (or more) reversable one-way lanes - all inbound in the morning, and all outbound in the evening. I know this is a complicated engineering problem, but it really would get a lot more utilization and ultimately bring in more toll revenue. And it's not that crazy when you think about it. If you look at the amount of land available for development out there, eventually it could easily support 7-8 lanes of capacity in the rush hour direction. When you think about it, that's about what we have in the 45/Hardy corridor, and it's close to what we'll have in the more bi-directional new Katy corridor. If I were Brazoria County officials and I wanted growth and economic development like Ft. Bend or Montgomery Counties, I'd take a serious look at pushing TXDoT to do more reversable one-way capacity than two-way.

16 Comments:

At 10:40 PM, February 22, 2007, Blogger Sal Costello said...

"I THINK WE'VE CREATED A MONSTER" in TxDOT, says Sen. Eltife.

Two TxDOT commission nominees got road hard and put away wet Wednesday after the Senate Nominations Committee grilled them with questions from tolls to secrecy to CDAs to big-ticket contracts.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBdvdRW7pd4

 
At 4:45 AM, February 23, 2007, Anonymous Cloister said...

I understand why you think that 288 would be a good candidate for reversible lanes at present. But if Brazoria County is angling for economic growth, wouldn't that mean that, in the long term, there would be more jobs there and 288 would become less unidirectional than it is now, thus making a bidirectional toll road a better option, just as on the other spoke freeways?

 
At 7:07 AM, February 23, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

You've got a point, but that would be at least 20+ years from now. Even then, if you look at The Woodlands and Sugar Land, which do have some job centers, the amount of contraflow commuter traffic is still pretty easily contained in 3-4 free lanes. Most of the employees actually live out there already, and aren't really using the freeway to commute anyway.

But having 7-8 lanes in the rush hour direction would enable substantial residental construction out there, which will create tons of spinoff businesses, jobs, and tax revenue. Once they have that critical mass of residential, they will get more employers and office buildings (as has happened in Sugar Land and The Woodlands), again mostly employing locals, but with some reverse commuters from Houston.

 
At 7:52 AM, February 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I asked several people at the meeting about the plans north of the merge with 288. I was reassured by all that there was a separate study to determine what to do with these lanes.

That's fine, and I'm glad it's being considered, but then I asked what the scheduling is for this other study. I asked directly "would it be possible that the construction of the toll lanes is completed before the other study is finished?" (i.e. will the lanes be done before you know what you're going to do with them?) They wouldn't give a clear answer. I think that this project has huge potential and it would be a shame to see this part given half-*** treatment.

That being said, I think if they don't know yet what to do with 2 northbound lanes at downtown, we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves trying to get 4 northbound lanes at downtown. Also, if you look at the North Freeway 25-30 years ago, it had the most "directional" character (IB in the morning, OB in the evening), but even then, the split in traffic volume was only 67%/33%. Years later, there are job centers in the North and there is no longer that 2:1 ratio. I think Brazoria county will develop less of a directional pattern over time; not 50/50 of course, but it's still probably not worth the construction effort of making the lanes reversible, especially since they stressed that mainlanes would be added after the toll lanes are built-as needed.

 
At 7:41 PM, February 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the ideas that was mentioned by TxDOT at the meeting was tying in the 288 toll lanes to the Hardy Toll Road. That would be interesting, but I have no idea how it would be pulled off. Elevate the toll lanes above the already elevated lanes of 59 east of downtown? Tunnel under downtown? What do you think, Tory?

The direct connector at Almeda is exciting because of the TMC access it would provide and because there's a nice median there almost to MacGregor (it was originally supposed to be the route of 288, years ago). I suggested that a more direct (and additional) direct-connector to the TMC could be placed at MacGregor, because there's also a wide median (of sorts) there. One of the engineering consultants said this was actually considered; however, it was not indicated on their maps.

 
At 7:41 PM, February 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the ideas that was mentioned by TxDOT at the meeting was tying in the 288 toll lanes to the Hardy Toll Road. That would be interesting, but I have no idea how it would be pulled off. Elevate the toll lanes above the already elevated lanes of 59 east of downtown? Tunnel under downtown? What do you think, Tory?

The direct connector at Almeda is exciting because of the TMC access it would provide and because there's a nice median there almost to MacGregor (it was originally supposed to be the route of 288, years ago). I suggested that a more direct (and additional) direct-connector to the TMC could be placed at MacGregor, because there's also a wide median (of sorts) there. One of the engineering consultants said this was actually considered; however, it was not indicated on their maps.

 
At 9:04 PM, February 23, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Yes, the Hardy Connection was mentioned. I have no idea either. Maybe part of some *massive* reconstruction of 59 past the GRB? Other than that, I think it would have to be a tunnel.

 
At 9:39 PM, February 23, 2007, Blogger Max Concrete said...

I think the median width is wide enough for six lanes (although I don't know that for a fact. Also, the original plan for the freeway developed in the early 1960s included six express lanes on the present day center median.

So I think it is a mistake not to plan for six toll lanes (3 each way), especially in locations where we can expect bottlenecks, such as at Loop 610. Outside Loop 610 there will be only 6 regular and 4 toll lanes (5 total each way), and this really can't handle a heavy peak demand.

This may be a case of TxDOT deliberately keeping the facility small to generate more toll revenue. That's not in the public interest, but that's what we get from Rick Perry's TxDOT.

 
At 7:22 AM, February 24, 2007, Anonymous Brian S. said...

"This may be a case of TxDOT deliberately keeping the facility small to generate more toll revenue. That's not in the public interest..."

Are you serious? Consuming fewer resources and getting more from it is wasteful? In the real world, you need to achieve an IRR of at least 10%, which I would be udderly shocked if this project ever achieved that. In the real world, if your IRR is too low you are wasting money. In other words, if the road isn't profitable you will have to subsidize it with other taxes. How is it my interest to spend my tax dollars to subsidize someone else's decision to live in Pearland.

 
At 7:23 AM, February 24, 2007, Anonymous Brian S. said...

Or is it utterly? Oops.

 
At 9:45 AM, February 24, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

> How is it my interest to spend my tax dollars to subsidize someone else's decision to live in Pearland.

Because Brazoria County has to pay the expensive part of schooling their children, while Houston gets the gravy of taxes from their employer.

 
At 9:38 PM, February 24, 2007, Anonymous Brian S. said...

Tory,

I'm not trying to rehash the debate over whether highways are truely a profitable enterprise.

My hope is that TxDot would promote the most profitable set up possible. Max Concrete was suggesting that they add another lane which would cost a lot of money, so that the congestion pricing could drop to a lower price. This would mean that the tollway costs more and would likely bring in less revenue then the current design. Thus, all tax payers (not just Houston residents as far as I understand the funding) would have to subsidize the construction and operating costs.

More directly, if adding an extra lane leads non-user tax payers to subsidize someone else's benefits, how is this in the public interest? If the current design leads to minimum subsidization how is this not in the public interest?

If you believe that the true fruits of these road endeavours is the taxes on employers please provide data.

 
At 10:23 AM, February 25, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Actually, it's unclear if an extra lane would bring in more money or less. The charge per vehicle would be less, but not only would that attract more riders in total, but the capacity would be there to support them.

Since it's a TXDoT project, it would actually be supported by all residents of Texas that pay gas taxes, as all state highways are.

It's not really a data issue. It's commonly acknowledged that commercial property yields more tax revenue than costs, while residential is more variable - and the most expensive public cost is educating children. So, for example, a relatively poor family with several children in a low value part of town is almost certainly paying less in property taxes than the actual cost of educating their children. So, net, when families live in another county but commute to Houston for their job, Houston gets the benefit of the commercial tax stream without the cost of educating their children.

 
At 5:00 PM, July 26, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate this plan. Just widen the road, or bring MetroRail down here. I'm not going to pay $4-5 every day on road tolls on top of the already mounting gas prices just to get to work.

We need GOOD PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION!

 
At 1:17 PM, December 28, 2007, Blogger John said...

South of Boston on 93 they have a movable barrier which is done everyday to get a lane added based on the IB or OB traffic. Works and is not that expensive.

 
At 6:27 AM, November 30, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

288 at 610 is a nightmare did the french design that freewy interchange? or was the designers smoking crack? their are to many entrances at 610 and when will my tax dollar pay for a feeder road down 288?

 

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