Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Sprawl and the benefits of frontage roads

I wanted to respond to Roger Galatas' editorial in the Sunday Chronicle about taming new sprawl in Houston. I was skeptical at first, but came around as I realized he wasn't trying to stop sprawl, but just get higher quality development as we grow. Most of his recommendations seem pretty reasonable, although the devil is always in the details - reasonable suggestions can slide down the slippery slope into oppressive regulations pretty easily.

My only strong disagreement regards frontage roads:
"The Texas Department of Transportation should rethink the purpose and use of frontage roads to make our freeways more attractive. In other states, cities without frontage roads have more attractive freeways."
Yes, urban freeways without frontage roads can be more scenic, but they're also a whole lot less functional. My step-daughter just got back from a long road trip to Illinois and Michigan, and one of her primary complaints was the lack of frontage roads (matching my experience in LA): How do I get over there? Can I exit here and still get back on? Where can I get back on? How can I u-turn? Where is the store or gas station or restaurant I'm looking for? It's a nightmare if you're not totally familiar with the area. Frontage roads are a major convenience.

But the best feature of frontage roads is that they put a commercial buffer between freeways and residential areas. Not only does this reduce pollution and noise for residents, it also diffuses opposition to freeway widenings when they become necessary. When TXDoT gets strong opposition to a freeway widening, it's almost always where it goes through a residential area: 10W in the Villages, 59S inside Shepherd, 45N in the Heights.

If people really want better freeway aesthetics, I think the focus should be on better landscaping along with billboard and sign ordinances, not eliminating frontage roads. Don't throw out the baby with the bath water.


At 10:58 AM, August 24, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought I had heard that TxDOT is considering moving away from building frontage roads. Did I just get this wrong, or is this true? If Erik Slotboom is out there, perhaps he can give us the correct story...

At 3:26 PM, August 24, 2005, Blogger Andrew said...

Living in a region of heavy freeway traffic and no frontage roads is horrible. When there is an accident you are stuck and if you miss your exit then you will have to refill your gas tank to get back.
Frontage roads are a great benefit that should not be touched.
Scenic highways is an oxymoron in Houston. We don't have highways going through mountains or lakesides so lets just make sure our highways are practical.

At 4:17 PM, August 24, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scenic highways is an oxymoron in Houston. We don't have highways going through mountains or lakesides so lets just make sure our highways are practical

some of our most scenic areas of town were once nothing special to look at. No reason why our highways can't be both practical and not completely ugly. plenty of examples exist from around the US on how to do this. in fact, even our beltway looks way better than most of our freeways because billboards are not allowed.

At 4:38 PM, August 24, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From what I've heard, TxDOT about a year ago floated the idea of no longer building frontage roads, and got such incredibly vigorous complaining from everyone from developers to cities that they backed off, and future TxDOT freeways will include frontage roads as always.

At 4:41 PM, August 24, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One minor update--the Grand Parkway, as it is being built by a quasi-TxDOT entity (Grand Parkway Association) is planned to have "intermittent" frontage roads.

I suspect, however, that the more final the designs become for each segment, the less intermittent they'll become.

At 7:09 PM, August 24, 2005, Blogger Max Concrete said...

In June 2001 the Texas Transportation Commission (the policy-setting arm of TxDOT) approved a policy which would have drastically reduced the frontage roads on new freeways. Public comment was overwhelmingly negative, so the policy was retracted in May 2002 and replaced with an access management policy (which governs the number of driveways with access to the frontage road). As far as I can tell, the access management policy doesn't have much impact.

So, officially, frontage roads are still part of TxDOT policy. However, since TxDOT is now going to toll just about every new limited-access facility, frontage roads will be much more intermittent in order to force traffic on the the tollways. Also, TxDOT is handing over responsibility for building to new facilities to agencies like HCTRA and FBCTRA, and the toll agencies don't build frontage roads.

So I think the bottom line is that we'll see new frontage roads on existing TxDOT freeways where the frontage roads have been planned for a long time, such as the current rebuilding of US 59 near the Grand Parkway. But for all the new toll facilities, frontage roads will be much less prevalent.

At 7:17 PM, August 26, 2005, Blogger R. Alex said...

Being raised in Houston, it never occured to me that frontage roads were a Texas thing. I move to Idaho and I realize that the rest of the country needs to do what Texas does!

At 12:21 AM, May 02, 2017, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose everyone gets used to what they grow up with, but as a trucker who has driven in every city in every state in our country, frontage roads in Texas are absolutely insane. Coming off an interstate at 70 miles an hour and immediately having to cross oncoming traffic and merge into another lane of traffic (which trucks have no mirror view into - well, hope its clear!). And that lane of traffic has people turning into businesses! Which face the interstate! Are you kidding me. Everywhere else, exits actually mean something. If you want to get to a business, you take a certain exit - from either direction. It's a safe exit and entrance from the interstate. And you can easily get to businesses on either side of the freeway. No crazy u-turns (which trucks can't fit through in most places). No insane intersections. Just a stoplight and a left or right turn.

Not to mention it doesn't look completely trashy. There's a reason only Texas has stubbornly stuck to this insane highway system. My Motto for Texas, after being shocked by its roads is "Texas - proud of our stupidity!"

Don't even get me started on all the gnarled spaghetti junction overpasses these frontage roads necessitate...

Worst interstate system in the country, from someone who knows.


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