Road projects gearing up in the Cy-Fair area
The four-year construction project starting this summer to upgrade the U.S. 290/I-610 intersection is only part of the plan to improve area mobility and reduce congestion.
Construction also is scheduled to start on the segment of the Grand Parkway connecting Interstate 10 and U.S. 290.
The Texas Department of Transportation opened bids this month for the interchange project. The Texas Transportation Commission is expected to award a $151.5 million contract on May 26 to low bidder Williams Brothers Construction Co.
The intersection is part of a segment of U.S. 290 from FM 529 to I-610 that just missed the Top 10 last fall on TxDOT's list of 100 most congested roadway segments in the state. At its No. 11 ranking, the 8.8-mile segment tallied 313,584 annual hours of delay per mile for motorists, for a total of 2.85 million annual hours of delay at an annual cost of $62.07 million, according to TxDOT's website.
A mitigation plan for the segment called for the U.S. 290/I-610 interchange work and reconstruction and widening of U.S. 290 from Pinemont to 34th Street. Funds from two voter-approved state propositions will pay for the interchange project, but no funding is available for the other proposed improvements.
The U.S. 290 project obtained environmental clearance in August, said Mike Zientek, senior public involvement representative for the U.S. 290 Program.
An inbound direct connector will be built from U.S. 290 and the I-610 North Loop to the Katy Freeway. That will eliminate traffic weaving on West Loop southbound lanes, according to TxDOT. The North Loop from Ella to the U.S. 290 interchange also will be reconstructed.
Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce President Mary Evans said the crossover from U.S. 290 to I-10 will "eliminate a lot of traffic. You won't have to stay on U.S. 290. It will be very, very helpful."
Work will start in July, Zientek said. Lane closures will occur during the project, which is scheduled for completion in 2015. Construction updates and information on lane closures will be available at www.my290.com/.
Planned construction of the segment of the Grand Parkway from I-10 to U.S. 290 is also touted as a way to reduce area congestion.
Last month, the state commission approved $350 million to build the 15.2-mile segment, with work scheduled to begin this summer.
Evans sees the Grand Parkway segment as giving northwest Harris County residents an alternative route.
"I'm working on alternatives," she said. "Where can we have the greatest impact with the money we have?"
Evans said she works with the state, consultants and private groups trying to find funding.
"There are lots of pieces to the puzzle," she said.
Opposition to the parkway segment included those concerned about the environmental impact of the road on the Katy Prairie.
Evans recently was appointed as board member to the Gulf Coast Rail District, which works with public and private partners to develop and implement an approach to improve the regional rail network.
In that role she participated in a Houston-Galveston Area Council meeting in Jersey Village on the Regional Goods Movement study.
H-GAC started the study of freight movement by truck, rail, water and pipeline in April. The study is expected to be completed in February, but not before another round of community meetings occurs, said Alan Clark, manager of the H-GAC transportation and air-quality programs.
"The purpose of the study is to identify where we're having problems today as well as look ahead to growth in the future," Clark said, adding that solutions can include infrastructure projects such as bigger roads and grade separations, and operational strategies such as arranging deliveries for nonpeak hours.
Clark said improvements to U.S. 290 and building the Grand Parkway segment will help.
"Building the segment from 290 to I-10 will provide some relief. It's not enough that redoing U.S. 290 still won't be necessary," he said.
The Grand Parkway segment will generate toll revenue and help support eventual completion of the project, he said.
Clark added that the cost for the Grand Parkway segment is much cheaper - $350 million to $400 million - than the $2.5 billion needed for U.S. 290.
He thinks that regional transportation needs are underfunded.
"When we talk about investments in transportation infrastructure, it's not like people aren't paying today," Clark said. "Folks stuck on U.S. 290 are wasting gasoline, wasting time. If we can reduce the costs of travel and the time it takes to travel, I think the public will demand that government take action to mitigate these problems."
He said that construction of the Grand Parkway segment will lead to additional development, but that is already happening anyway.
"To decide not to invest in the Grand Parkway - the result would be far worse then if they (transportation officials) did in terms of development we have," Clark said.
Clark said the region is adding 100,000 people annually, which means more passenger traffic and more demand for regional movement of goods.
The Port of Houston ranked first last year in the United States in foreign tonnage, according to the port website. And, trade between Mexico and the United States in December totaled $23 billion, more than a 15 percent increase over the previous year.
According to the H-GAC, the breakdown of regional freight movement includes 61 percent by truck, 20 percent by rail and 19 percent by water. The top commodities being moved are petroleum/coal products and chemical products.