Drivers along I-45 between FM 1960 and South Loop 336 in Conroe should see a little relief to the traffic congestion thanks to HOV managed lanes that are proposed to be open by early 2016.
The current congestion along I-45 causes concern for residents and the leaders of The Woodlands, partially because it leads drivers to overuse the feeder roads, The Woodlands Township Director Mike Bass said.
"When a highway gets that congested, the feeder roads become just an extension of the freeway and they equally get congested," he said.
The South Montgomery County Mobility Study determined that the stretch of I-45 between Conroe and the Hardy Toll Road carries 280,000 cars a day and then about 260,000 beyond the Hardy Toll Road. Bass added that the part of I-45 that sees 280,000 cars daily handles roughly 80,000 more than it is designed to accommodate.
"They expect that I-45 in the next 10 years or so could be looking at as close to 450,000 cars," he said.
One of the goals of the South County Mobility Study, which is being conducted by the Houston-Galveston Area Council, is to determine some north-south route alternatives to help with the congestion in addition to the HOV lanes planned by the Texas Department of Transportation, Bass said.
TxDOT spokeswoman Deidrea Samuels said the state will begin accepting bids on the lane extension in March 2015 with the hope that the project would be completed in either the final quarter of 2015 or the first quarter of 2016.
"That's if everything runs on schedule," Samuels said.
Officials from The Woodlands inquired with TxDOT about possibly moving up the project's timeline.
"Most people look at that and say, 'Well, why can't they just open it? The lane's there,'" Bass said. "Well, the problem is, there's a few areas where there are abutments that reach out into that lane, so they have to do some redesign there. What we've been told is, it'll be 2015 before that's done, and probably not any sooner than that."
When the HOV lanes open, they won't fix all of the mobility issues on I-45, but they should help, Bass said.
"For every lane that you open, the design capacity for that lane should be about 22-, 25,000 cars," he said. "So, it will help some, but it won't totally solve the problem."
Samuels said extending the HOV lane through the area would allow drivers who are in existing HOV lanes to continue, which should help with the flow of traffic.
Alan Clark, director of transportation planning for the Houston-Galveston Area Council, said he hopes people will be able to drive in the HOV lanes no later than 2016.
"It's going to save a fair amount of time, and of course, everyone who uses that lane is not sitting in the [other lanes], so it even helps the people who are not carpooling or using transit," Clark said. "But I don't want anybody to think it's going to open up and people will be able to drive without congestion the next day."
He said he hopes having the HOV lanes will encourage people to rideshare or use public transportation.
"The idea is, let's try to give a priority to moving more people as opposed to moving more vehicles," Clark said.