Monday, July 25, 2005

I45 expansion plans and Woodland Heights

There's a lot of noise around this issue: the Chronicle, BlogHouston, and Off the Kuff. And all kinds of solutions are being thrown around: tunnels, elevateds, and the ever-popular "nothing" (both sides: either don't change the plan or don't widen at all). And I have previously posted my own solution for minimizing right-of-way needs with managed lanes, and I'd love to find a TXDoT person that could explain to me why it would or wouldn't work.

On a lark, I decided to check out the facts, aka "the situation on the ground". Check out this Google satellite map of the Woodland Heights area at 45. The simple fact is, as far as Woodland Heights is concerned, the right-of-way is already there. Yes, it's a set of steeply sloping hillsides, but that's also what 59 used to have inside of Shepherd, and they widened it quite nicely by simply putting in vertical walls - no extra RoW needed, no houses condemned. They may have to do a little clever ramp work like the depressed section of Central in Dallas, but it seems very doable. Throw in some nice new sound walls, and I'll bet residents would end up better off than they are now, where the hillsides project the sound right up into their houses. I don't know why TXDoT doesn't point this out and diffuse peoples' fears.

Now, go a little bit north of Woodland Heights - just north of N. Main - and you can see where the RoW is very, very tight. Not sure what the right solution is there, but I think the simplist would be to remove the feeders and widen the trench. Those feeders end just south of there anyway, so it may not be much of a mobility loss. Maybe keep one feeder lane on each side if necessary, but hang it out over the trench, again like Central in Dallas.

What's needed overall? A little more calm, reason, dialogue, openness, and simplicity - on both sides. Why does every mobility project in this city have to be an all-out war?


At 7:31 AM, July 26, 2005, Blogger John Whiteside said...

Well, probably because TxDOT has been trying to push the project through while keeping neighbors in the dark. (See this post from Off the Kuff for a good summary of that.) You've suggested some reasonable options. People are, generally, reasonable. But not when it seems that someone is trying to keep them in the dark so they have no input in what will happen to their neighborhood.

At 10:03 AM, July 26, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tory, you put your finger on the problem right here:

"I'd love to find a TXDoT person that could explain to me why it would or wouldn't work."

Right now, we residents of the Woodland Heights and other affected areas (Lindale, Proctor Plaza, Near Northside, etc etc etc) don't trust TxDOT because we feel that TxDOT has not played it straight with us. We've seen the diagrams which show all those new lanes, and we hear their claims of "no new right of way", but we don't hear or see how they can reconcile them. Doing things like trying to keep their study a secret does not help their credibility in our eyes.

We don't want to get rolled by TxDOT. There are many questions they have not answered (including questions about what happens to the extra traffic once it hits the Pierce Elevated, and why the Hardy Toll Road isn't being pushed as an alternative), and until they do, we will make noise because it's the only thing we can do.

-- Charles Kuffner

At 9:11 PM, July 26, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tory - you're right about the need for openess and calmness on both sides.

I worked on this project a bit, and based on what I saw and heard, there just may in fact be enough right-of-way in the areas you mentioned (and that's what was said during the public meetings). There will indeed probably have to be some innovative solutions like overhanging frontage roads ala the North Central Expressway. If I recall correctly, the real monkey wrench comes from the need (can't recall by whom exactly, as I'm not in the project anymore) to have emergency shoulders on both the outside and inside edges of the managed lanes, which then makes the right-of-way especially dicey.

Considerably further up the line, there’s some talk of the concept of “backage roads,” which means removing the frontage roads along some stretches of the freeway and putting them along the backside of the property lines of the parcels that line the freeway. While it’s an interesting concept, if I’m a property owner who invested in a snazzy freeway-facing entrance and a dumpster pad in the back, I don’t really like the idea of my traffic suddenly coming in past my dumpster. I don't think that idea will be implemented.

There’s obviously deep mistrust between the community and the I-45 team, and it goes pretty far back in time. The other posts so far have illustrated that. Frankly, I found some of the TxDOT employees that I interacted with professionally to be very condescending to the locals at the meetings while also being evasive, and that never helps. By the same token, some of the locals would come into the meetings looking for a fight.

I think the complaint that the Hardy Toll Road extension is being treated in a vacuum separate from I-45 and the rail is quite valid, and a good share of that blame goes to HCTRA who was a complete non-participant.

We've really not figured out how to do a proper and meaningful public involvement process in this town when it comes to highways. Maybe we need a neutral third party to play the role of host, and perhaps also as watchdog and auditor to take some of the tension out while also ensuring that valid public concerns are solicited, addressed, and integrated into design at the right stages of a project.

At 8:56 AM, July 27, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


The Pierce Elevated is slated to have a lane added in each direction. The project is on the drawing board already. It was done in antipation of the I-45 widening north of I-10.

I'm not exactly sure how you can widen the Pierce Elevated, but never mind that for a moment. I personally asked the question about it at an open meeting sponsored by the Woodland Heights Civic Association several months ago. The answer I got from one of the TxDOT reps was a suggestion to either jog over to 59 or to exit at Pierce and take Bagby to 59. Based on that, all I can conclude is that this expansion plan you mention is either brand new or vaporware.

I'm sure there are innovative solutions like the previous commenter suggested and as you (Tory) have written. I'm sure some of them could solve most or even all of the main complaints that our neighborhoods have. I'll be at the next meeting on August 13. If I hear about some of these innovative ideas from TxDOT and not from outside observers, then I'll change my tune. Until then, I remain very skeptical.

-- Charles Kuffner


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