Texas Department of Transportation officials revealed plans in late April for a game-changing 16-mile project designed to makeover I-45 in the northern part of Houston. Meanwhile construction is ongoing near Friendswood and Pearland on segments of I-45 south, and more work on the interstate is on the horizon.

Two existing projects—which stretch from Beltway 8 to FM 2351 and FM 2351 to Bay Area Boulevard—will expand I-45 to help alleviate congestion in one of the worst spots for traffic in the state.

“When the projects started in 2011, that segment of [I-45] was in the top five of the 100 most congested segments in Texas,” TxDOT spokesperson Deidrea George said. “The need for [the projects] was evident.”

Project detailsI-45 south

Construction began on the section of I-45 from Beltway 8 to FM 2351 in June 2011, and construction from FM 2351 to Bay Area Boulevard started in December 2012. The approximately six-mile stretch of roadway will widen from six to 10 main lanes and include six frontage lanes upon completion.

In 2012, 174,000 cars traveled daily from Beltway 8 to Bay Area Boulevard, according to TxDOT. The traffic count is expected to reach 254,000 by 2035.

Beltway 8 to FM 2351 is expected to be complete in the third quarter of 2016 while the portion from FM 2351 to Bay Area Boulevard has a projected completion date of a year later. Construction on both projects was paused in 2012 due to delays caused by utility relocation and right of way acquisition.

“The project was put on hold for roughly about a year because we had not acquired all of the right of way,” George said. “We did as much as we could until we had to stop to wait on right of way to acquire the rest of the parcels needed to finish the project so that set us back about a year.”

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Economic effects

Friendswood and other southeast Houston residents using I-45 for work commutes have dealt with the lion’s share of the congestion, officials said.

“There’s a lot of folks [who] still commute in, even all the way from [Galveston],” said David Wurdlow, Houston-Galveston Area Council program manager. “Given that downtown [Houston] and a lot of the major [job centers] remain in that central part of Harris County, having good access and capacity on these corridors is important.”

In addition to managing increasing traffic counts, officials prioritized the expansion of the I-45 south to help continue economic development in the growing southeast Houston area.

“Another goal [of H-GAC’s 2040 Regional Transportation Plan] is strengthening economic competitiveness in our region—making sure that investments we make are furthering state and local goals for continued economic prosperity,” Wurdlow said.

Friendswood Development Company—which began developing Friendswood’s West Ranch subdivision in 2006—accounts for mobility when selecting sites and welcomes completion of the two projects.

“[The projects] show money is being invested in that area so that’s promising to new homebuyers,” FDC senior acquisitions manager Michael Johnson said.

While the construction may be a temporary headache for drivers, officials agree it is a necessary component for economic growth.

“If you don’t have infrastructure and mobility, you have no economic development,” Bay Area Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell said. “It’s just unfortunate [that] when you’re trying to build freeways you seem to always be behind in doing that, but you have to have access to and from homes and businesses. Infrastructure drives the economy.”

Officials said they see the I-45 expansion as a positive sign for the local economy.

“It’s helping increase business in the area,” Mitchell said. “I know the traffic is difficult and congested, but when you see them widening the freeway like they are, they’re doing it because of people and opportunities. Anytime [there is road expansion] it’s always a good sign [for the economy].”