Having wrapped up Phase 1 of its Planning and Environmental Linkage Study on I-45 N. last summer, the Texas Department of Transportation is in the midst of Phase 2, during which TxDOT officials will continue to seek public input through summer 2020.
TxDOT launched a PEL study on the I-45 corridor between Beltway 8 N. in Spring and S. Loop 336 in Conroe in spring 2017 to identify future corridor needs based on existing road conditions, population growth projections and input from the public.
“A PEL study puts public engagement, public involvement, public coordination first when we look to determine the best possible solutions for the area,” TxDOT Commissioner Laura Ryan said during a North Houston Association luncheon March 19. “Working with the community, we will develop ideas and alternatives to support the vision that we have and that the community has for the corridor [by]identifying issues and concerns early, which will save us time and mean few delays later in the process.”
Ryan added anticipated population growth is one of the biggest concerns driving the study. As of January 2018, Harris County has a population of 4.6 million, and Montgomery County has a population of 566,000, according to the Texas Demographics Center. Those numbers are expected to increase by 46 percent and 141 percent, respectively, by 2045—meaning an additional 2.5 million people for the area.
“One of the major corridors in this area is I-45,” Ryan said. “And I-45 North needs some improvements. With more than 200,000 vehicles on that portion of the interstate daily, it’s a legitimate, valid observation.”
In addition to accommodating growth, Ryan said safety is another key factor that is being considered throughout the PEL process. Between 2012-16, 11,992 total crashes occurred on the I-45 main lanes, 228 of which resulted in a fatality or incapacitating injury.
“Every day for the past 18 years, since Nov. 7, 2000, someone has died in a traffic crash in Texas on our roads,” she said. “As we look to the future, we don’t just want to move more people and goods faster along this corridor, we also want to ensure that everyone is safe as well.”
Phase 1, which included data collection, analysis of existing conditions, and identification of corridor issues and concerns to identify a vision for the corridor with community input, was completed in summer 2018.
TxDOT Houston District Engineer Quincy Allen said during Phase 1, TxDOT had 105 individuals attend three community meetings to give input on the study. In addition to safety and growth accommodation, some of the corridor concerns raised by residents included flooding, environmental impacts, improved intersection configuration and enhanced multimodal options, such as bidirectional high-occupancy vehicle lanes and improved system connectivity with more direct connector ramps.
Phase 2, now underway, includes the development and screening of conceptual ideas and alternatives that support the corridor vision and consideration of viable alternatives. It will conclude with a presentation of PEL findings. Phase 2 is expected to wrap up by summer 2020.
TxDOT Director of Project Development Pat Henry confirmed Phase 2 will include additional public meetings; however, exact meeting dates had not been announced as of March 20.
“We need help getting the word out on how important public involvement in these meetings was and [will be]in this phase coming up,” Allen said. “We want to hear from the public—not just stakeholders but ordinary citizens. There’s no idea that we don’t want to hear. We’re going to take the data and input and make this project better.”