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Would the elevated 610 lanes really reduce congestion?

Color me skeptical.

The elevated lane design, officials said, would allow traffic headed around the loop, and not into the Uptown area, to flow more freely. The lanes would have no access to exits for San Felipe, Westheimer, Richmond or U.S. 59.

Moving that through-traffic to the express lanes would open up space for local traffic on the existing Loop 610 lanes, TxDOT officials said.

The plans have reignited fears about the effects of a double-decker freeway on the area and Memorial Park. Proposals for two tiers of freeway traffic have run into staunch opposition twice in the past 25 years.

Residents and leaders of the Memorial Park Conservancy – a nonprofit that helps protect and manage the park – are taking a close look at the latest proposal. Local landowners and businesses also are monitoring the project, said John Breeding, president of Uptown Houston and administrator of the area’s tax increment reinvestment zone.

“Noise and the visual are the biggest issues,” Breeding said.

[…]

Because of limited space, TxDOT said only one lane to and from the elevated lanes would be practical and help control traffic flow. The absence of a second lane, however, creates a bottleneck where the lanes rejoin the rest of Loop 610.

Others criticized the plan for not having direct access to I-10.

“That’s a big loss,” frequent Loop 610 and I-10 driver Jason Wilkinson said. “Everybody that needs to go downtown, you’ve just made it so they can’t use it.”

TxDOT officials this week extended the deadline for comments from Dec. 28 to Jan. 8, spokesman Danny Perez said.

Though officials have said the lanes may be tolled, recent infusions of cash to transportation funding via voter-approved changes in state budgeting could mean the express lanes stay free.

Pending state and federal approvals, construction could begin in two or three years, provided TxDOT and local officials devise a way to pay for it.

The lanes, estimated to cost $250 million, are not included in regional transportation spending plans approved by the Houston-Galveston Area Council, which doles out much of the state and federal money meant for congestion relief.

See here and here for the background. I guess I just don’t believe this will work. The particulars of getting the people who want to pass through the 59-to-10 part of the West Loop (how many such people are there?) onto and off of the express lane or lanes will cause confusion and likely some backups all on their own. Getting to the I-10 exit on the northbound Loop, and to the 59 exit on the southbound side, will still be a mess. And I say again, ain’t no way this comes in at $250 million. It’s just a question of how much of an underestimate that is. I get why people find this enticing – who wouldn’t like to think that we can reduce traffic on the Loop? – I just don’t buy it. It’s false hope. Sorry.

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5 Comments

  1. Paul kubosh says:

    Good post… I agree.

  2. voter_worker says:

    Two lanes merging into one lane at each end sounds like a recipe for a continuous jam-up during peak usage. Am I mis-reading it? As for the $250 million, perhaps that will cover the design and engineering costs.

  3. Paul kubosh says:

    Voter that’s how I read it and no way they do it for 250 million

  4. Bill Daniels says:

    Surprisingly, I agree with Kuff AND Kubosh. How often does that happen? Build an “express lane” and all you have done is create different points of gridlock. At the point where the express lane dumps onto the existing 610, you just caused a massive backup, so you really haven’t done anything to address the problem. And not connecting a 610 flyover to I-10? Uh, yeah, what’s that about?

    The best way to help traffic flow in Houston would be to open up the HOV lanes to everyone.

  5. Kris Overstreet says:

    The reason the 610 West Loop is in perpetual gridlock isn’t so much lack of lanes as poor design. You have an exit or entrance ramp every quarter mile from Post Oak to the Southwest Freeway. Most of the exit ramps dump out onto the access road only a few carlengths short of stoplights with long wait times. Between drivers who need to cross multiple lanes of traffic to enter or exit the freeway (thanks to I-10 and US 59) and stopped traffic backing up onto the main lanes, traffic jams are unavoidable. Elevated bypass lanes won’t do much to relieve the core problem. The West Loop needs a total redesign, with fewer exits for the Galleria area, longer merge zones, and separation of traffic exiting to 59 and traffic continuing on 610.