Thursday, May 03, 2007

Preliminary 2035 HGAC Regional Transportation Plan

Last week I was able to attend a Livable Houston presentation by Kari Hackett of the Houston-Galveston Area Council on the preliminary 2035 Regional Transportation Plan, a process they go through every 5 years. I thought I'd cover a few highlights that jumped out at me.

They are planning four major strategies to deal with our tremendous growth:
  1. Build more roadway and transit
  2. Reduce peak demand
  3. Manage what we have
  4. Livable centers (people live close enough to walk/bike/transit to work)
Some highlights of the major road projects map:
  • Fully completed Grand Parkway loop
  • Managed Lanes on most major spoke freeways except on the east side (separately, the Metro map does show managed lanes on east I10)
  • Completion of Beltway 8 (northeast sector)
  • 249 as a toll road outside the Grand Parkway well up into Mongomery County (I hear the western part of The Woodlands really needs it)
  • Ft. Bend Tollway connected into the southwest corner of the 610 Loop
  • Extension of Spur 5 by UH/I45S all the way out to Pearland as a tollway
  • Fairmont-Red Bluff freeway connecting Beltway 8 in Pasadena to Seabrook (a personal favorite of mine as an alternate to ever-congested 45S)
The finished map is an amazingly comprehensive loop-and-spoke freeway network, with the potential for congestion pricing on everything except 610 (that means the tollways plus the managed lanes on the "free" freeways). Still, as impressive as it is, evidently it's 210 fewer lane miles than the 2030 plan. It's also 3,050 fewer lane miles of "smart street" arterials. It was unclear why lanes were subtracted: reality of RoW costs, pushback from cities/neighborhoods, etc. I'm not sure whether the subtraction is a good or bad thing. The final congestion forecast map is still a pretty scary looking big red blob.

Metro also added some interesting new things to their map:
  • Guided Rapid Transit (GRT, probably BRT) along 3 new lines:
  1. Along Bellaire (their busiest bus route) from Highway 6 all the way to what looks like the east end of the eastside BRT in the Ship Channel area
  2. Along what looks like the 288 median from Brazoria into downtown. Not sure how that jives with the toll road plan down the middle (which is also on the map). The plans I saw way back said any rail that direction would be in the Almeda corridor, but that's not what this map shows.
  3. West along I10 from downtown to Katy. Again, not sure about where the RoW is coming from here. They also still show the managed lanes along this corridor, so it's not coming out of them.
  • Commuter rail to Clear Lake (and possibly beyond), Pearland (a surprising new one), and along 290 - as well as along 90a in SugarLand, but, get this, instead of coming in to the south end of the Main St. LRT, it turns up the freight tracks parallel and just inside the West Loop, connecting into the 290 line before arriving at the intermodal center north of downtown. I think this is the theory: commuters from Ft. Bend will transfer to the Bellaire GRT to get to the med center, they will have reasonably easy transfers to Greenway and Uptown, and then they come into the the downtown intermodal - so they'll effectively serve 4 job centers instead of just the med center, as connecting to the south end of the LRT would do (30 mins is too long a connecting slog to downtown along the entire length of the Main St. line). It makes a lot of sense. In fact, all the proposed commuter lines seem to have better connections into the 4 major job centers in the core. A definite improvement, although overall expected cost-effectiveness vs. express buses remains to be seen.
Some other misc points:
  • Port container cargo expected to grow 11% per year, which is a heck of a lot of growth (along with the truck and train traffic to support it)
  • More protection of wetlands and flood plains
  • Trying to get more regional transit options beyond the Metro service area and into adjacent counties
  • An "Envision Houston" scenario with more concentrated density in the urban core around mixed-use, pedestrian "Livable Centers" that is forecast to increase transit use about 20% and reduce vehicle miles-travelled by 6%.
There is expected to be a public meeting on June 14th if you'd like to know more. Details to be announced.

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At 8:37 AM, May 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Less lane miles for RTP is not necessarily a bad thing. Several of the routes HGAC concentrated on would provide dramatically increased capacity for the spoke system.

The 90a commuter rail line re-aligned to head north and eventually into the downtown intermodal center is great addition, but it will be interesting to seek how this will jive with the projected increase in freight on the local rail lines. The re-alignment of freight rail is dead on arrival since the rail companies don't want pay for it (and rightly so!). You wouldn't to pay to move because of eminent domain without getting paid first. Also, UPRR is planning to triple track (upgrade from dual to three tracks within their right of way) throughout the city. This may be a good thing if the added capacity will allow them to lease their corridors to the commuter rail.

The 90a commuter rail line north will also beg the question as to whether Belaire, Braeswood, Bissonet, Richmond, Westheimer, and San Felipe will become grade separated. If not, it will provide many more headaches for east-west surface street movement than exist now.

At 11:43 AM, May 07, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really interesting stuff Metro is planning (or at least thinking about). Where can one see their map that shows these plans?

At 12:33 PM, May 07, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I don't think it's online yet, but when the 2035 plan gets posted (probably in June), it's in there.

At 11:22 AM, June 10, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What happens if the grants and funds collected to fund metro run out. People who become dependent of the transit system are so out of luck. Charging a $1 each way wont pay the bills. What plans do you have to transition these services to the private sector by gradually allowing the consumers to pay for more of the cost of their services? There is no free ride. Someone has to pay for it. Meanwhile the gaps and barriers to transportation for the most vulnerable (blind, elderly, disabled) in our community become larger. Does Metro partner with Fort Bend County Transportation to fill these gaps? No

At 12:49 PM, June 10, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Metro's 1% sales tax is not going away, and brings them a big pile of money that's growing every year. Whether they can keep budgets balanced and services growing while building the rail is a different question. But I do think they need to expand their coverage area to adjacent counties for commuter services, or at least make partnerships.


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