Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that the cap structures being pitched for I-10 would be at sections where the highway is below grade, not at grade.

As officials with the Texas Department of Transportation explore different ideas for alleviating congestion on I-10, one group has emerged with a clear message: no widening or elevating of the highway.

The backstory

The group, called No Higher No Wider I-10, formed in the wake of several different projects being considered by TxDOT: including one that would involve elevating a portion of I-10 that is susceptible to flooding, and one that involves adding managed lanes to the freeway.

Advocates said they want to see a paradigm shift in how the state tackles road projects in the Houston area. Instead of widening or elevating I-10, advocates are calling for the implementation of a series of capped highway structures.

The context

Details of the proposal were presented at a March 28 meeting of the Greater Heights Super Neighborhood. Advocates pointed to the traffic engineering concept of "induced demand"—the idea that road improvements to relieve congestion also bring more drivers to the roadway, offsetting benefits—as a reason for why alternative ideas should be considered for I-10, which was expanded to 23 lanes in 2011.

By 2014, commute times were worse than they were before the expansion, according to traffic data from Houston TransStar.

"They’ll never tell you that they are making more room for traffic. ... They’ll tell you they are making more room to relieve congestion, which is short lived," said Matthew Tetlow, a member of No Higher No Wider I-10, during the March 28 meeting. "We shouldn’t fall for it again, again."

With regards to it's managed lane proposal, TxDOT officials said it would alleviate congestion, with traffic levels in general purpose lanes returning to existing conditions around 2045

The details

The No Higher No Wider advocates are calling for TxDOT to install a capped freeway design on I-10 that would feature parks, retail and residences above the traffic lanes. The caps could be placed along below-grade sections of the highway between Memorial Park and Patterson Street.

Advocates said specifics could be determined based on community feedback, but caps could host amenities, provide noise dampening effects or serve as bridges.

"We want the community’s input," Tetlow said. "Where are caps important? What activities should there be? Where is noise the worst?"

The idea would alleviate two of the top concerns opponents have when it comes to widening and elevating the highway: increases in noise and air pollution. It also would not require the acquisition of anyone's home. By contrast, one option TxDOT is considering for adding managed lanes to I-10 would require the removal of 52 residences and 30 commercial buildings in Cottage Grove.

Zooming out

Advocates pointed to Klyde Warren Park in Dallas as a highway cap success story. The park has generated an estimated economic impact to the city of Dallas of nearly $3 billion since its opening on Spur 366 in 2012, which park officials said is mainly from increasing land value and its effects on the tax base. The park was built as part of a TxDOT project along the highway with additional federal and private funding.

With the sections of I-10 that are below grade, a capped highway seems like a natural choice, Tetlow said, and could help reconnect legacy neighborhoods that were divided by I-10.

Also of note

Advocates acknowledged the capped highway structure would also require buy-in from the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, whose Inner Katy Bus Rapid Transit project would have to be redesigned to fit in with the new plan. He said the park area could ultimately benefit METRO's plans because it would give bus drivers a place to drop people off that wasn't along the edge of a freeway.

What they're saying

Ruben Rios, a resident who lives in West End and attended the March 28 meeting, said he liked the cap structure idea, pointing to the land bridge recently completed at Memorial Park as another example he thought turned out well.

"Kids and family can walk around. It will bring business to the community," he said. "I'm always [open] to solutions ... but whatever solutions we come up with cannot impact other people's commute and living."

What's next

Officials with No Higher No Wider I-10 said the first step involves asking TxDOT to consider the concept. Over the next 2-3 months, Tetlow said the group will host more community meetings to share ideas and reach out to TxDOT to try to present their vision.

Super Neighborhood No. 15, the West End Civic Club and the Cottage Grove Civic Club are among the early endorsers of the idea.