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The Ainbinder traffic impact analysis for the Height Wal-Mart

When last we discussed the Heights Wal-Mart development, we were awaiting a traffic impact analysis (TIA) on the roads around the site, which was to be done on behalf of Ainbinder, the developer of the project. For your perusal, here is the TIA of the Wal-Mart development. I want to quote you a paragraph from the executive summary:

The results of this traffic engineering study indicate that the construction of IH-10 frontage roads and resulting changes in traffic patterns will impact both mobility and traffic operations within the study area on a much greater scale than the new trips generated by the proposed Washington Heights development. Furthermore, it was found that the addition of the proposed retail development is not expected to cause a significant reduction in LOS beyond what is expected for year 2012 No Build conditions.

“LOS” is “level of service”, and it refers to the congestion and wait-time conditions at intersections; they are given grades from A (always smooth flow, no problems at all) to F (“Unstable traffic flow. Heavy congestion. Traffic moves in forced flow condition. Average delays of greater than one minute highly probable. Total breakdown.”) based on what is observed or projected. What Kimley-Horn, the firm that conducted the TIA for Ainbinder, is saying is that the intersection of Yale and the under-construction I-10 service roads will start off as an F even if the Wal-Mart site is still an empty lot in 2012.

Does that sound credible to you? It doesn’t to me. I used to take Height Boulevard south past I-10, for several years after dropping my kids off at preschool. It was not unusual for me to have to sit through one light cycle on Heights, but that was because the duration of the green light for the southbound approach at I-10 West was only about 15 seconds. (Believe me, I timed it myself out of frustration more than once.) The folks coming from the I-10 West service road, who were the bulk of the traffic and were mostly turning left (south) onto Heights had a nice long light, and had no trouble. (A corollary to this was that the green light for the southbound approach at I-10 East, which included a protected left, was much longer. This was the only way onto I-10 East between Yale and Studemont, so a fair number of vehicles turning left from the I-10 West service road turned again onto the eastbound service road.)

The point I’m making is that before the current construction, the traffic at this intersection wasn’t bad. Most of it was for vehicles getting on and off the freeway. On Yale, traffic was even less of an issue, as there was only one light, where the westbound service road dead-ended into Yale. A few people going south on Yale would turn left at the un-signaled intersection onto the eastbound service road, but my observation was that most people heading south on Yale were aiming for either Washington Avenue, or points south, where Yale merged into Waugh Drive. This was also the only way to get onto Memorial Drive west, as that entrance is inaccessible from Heights/Waugh southbound.

What would make traffic at Yale/I-10 so much worse once there’s a service road there to connect to points west, or to handle people now exiting at Yale? Obviously, people will use this to get onto I-10, but one presumes these people are currently using either the entrance at Studemont or the entrance at Durham/Shepherd. The people who will some day exit at Yale are presumably now exiting at Studemont, making the U-turn, then turning left at either Heights or Yale. We’ve already established that pre-construction this was no big deal. Where’s all that extra traffic going to come from? Other than some reshuffling from Studemont and Durham/Shepherd, it’s not obvious to me. It’s not like there will be more residences or businesses putting traffic onto Yale by 2012.

Well, except for the one factor that this TIA wants you to think won’t be much of one, that being the Wal-Mart development. But if Yale at I-10 was going to be a nightmare anyway, then it’s not their fault, is it? How fortunate for them that TxDOT is there to take the hit for this.

Anyway. There’s a lot more to the TIA, but a couple of other points need to be mentioned. One is that the 380 agreement the city signed with Ainbinder doesn’t mention the service roads, or the intersections at Yale and Heights. The stuff that Ainbinder agreed to do as part of the 380 involve widening Yale between the train bridge and Koehler so as to allow a left turn lane into the development, and adding a left turn lane from Heights onto Koehler once the apartments in between have been torn down. The TIA suggests adding as mitigations a right turn lane from Yale onto I-10 service road westbound, and a left turn lane from Heights to I-10 westbound, but as neither of the 380, it’s not clear who would pay for them. With the TIA claiming that Ainbinder’s development would not be responsible for this traffic, don’t expect them to make any offers. Oh, and the TIA doesn’t include their full data sets, and this report apparently differs from a previous one. We’re taking their word for it on this.

Another point, separate from the traffic issues, is that the bridge on Yale between Koehler and I-10, the one that goes over the bayou, has a gross weight limit of 40,000 pounds. This wasn’t discussed before because the sign indicating this weight limit isn’t easily visible from the street. Here’s a photo so you can see what I mean. The tare weight, which is to say the empty weight, of a typical 18-wheeler is 30,000 to 36,000 pounds, and the legal maximum is 80,000 pounds. That would seem to be a problem, given the limitations of that bridge. How many 18-wheelers a day come into a Wal-Mart facility?

All of the documents linked in this post, as well as this summary doc, which notes these and other issues, came to me via RUDH. There will be a public meeting tomorrow, January 26, to discuss these items:

6:30 to 7:30 PM
Council on Alcohol & Drugs
303 Jackson Hill Street
Houston, TX 77007

Here’s a map to the location. See you there.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by offthekuff, Irfan S and #SLGT , Stop Heights WalMart. Stop Heights WalMart said: Great piece on how developer is passing the buck. Off The Kuff […]

  2. Jules says:

    Charles, it doesn’t sound credible to me either. I’m hoping that Ed Gonzalez will demand a new study from a different firm.

  3. Nick says:

    There are a couple of very important parts to this:

    -No further remediation or build conditions means that the developer does not have to spend even more money on the development. Thus, the motivation from a fiscal perspective, is to recommend no remediation and no build conditions for the developer, or in this case, to pass blame to something else (I-10 Feeder). If the developer sponsors a required study that makes a recommendation that saves the developer millions, then can it truly be objective?

    -The city must review this information, so once again, we have an opportunity for our city government, and elected officials to step up in support of their constituents, taxpayers, and voters.

  4. Jules says:

    I’m not feeling a lot of trust on this project. Where’s the unprecedented Walmart Operating Agreement that the Mayor promised to us by the end of last year?

  5. AWHeights says:

    Ainbinder’s traffic engineer, Kimley-Horn, didn’t even walk the site, otherwise, they would have discovered the bridge load capacity issue. Instead, RUDH did the legwork and reported it to the City. Now, the public is just supposed to trust that Kimley-Horn included all the traffic volumes without submitting detailed data with their final TIA?

    Bottom line: the Kimley-Horn TIA can’t be verified without the full data. The City has an obligation to to the public to perform a thorough review of this TIA. The City needs to recognize that Kimley-Horn is capable of making mistakes. The bridge omission clearly demonstrates that.

  6. […] tidbit that I picked up at the recent RUDH meeting that discussed the Ainbinder-sponsored traffic impact analysis (TIA). We know that in addition to the Ainbinder site, which is primarily on the west side of Yale […]

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