To address congestion concerns along I-45, the Texas Department of Transportation is in the process of planning an environmental linkage study from Beltway 8 in Houston to Loop 336 in Conroe. Officials said the study could take up to three years to complete.
The road interchange is severely over capacity, meaning the mainlanes do not meet the needs of traffic volumes, TxDOT Public Information Officer Deidrea George said.
According to TxDOT, about 200,000 vehicles travel I-45 northbound each day. Traffic volumes from 2017 show the area between Beltway 8 and Rankin Road and the area between the Hardy Toll and Rayford roads sees between 244,100 to 275,900 cars per day, making these areas some of the most congested sections of I-45 on the north side of Houston.
To address these issues, TxDOT is conducting the I-45 planning and environmental linkage—or PEL—study along 24 miles of the roadway.
“The purpose of the I-45 PEL study is to gather input and concerns from the community who utilize the corridor and let us know some of the things that they would like to see to address mobility,” George said.
Entities within the project boundaries include Harris and Montgomery counties, The Woodlands, Oak Ridge North, Conroe and Shenandoah.
The project was identified by the Houston-Galveston Area Council in its 2015 South Montgomery County Mobility Study, which suggested local and state officials must find short- and long-term solutions for the project to address existing traffic and prepare for growth.
The I-45 study is currently in Phase 1 –which includes data collection, analyzing existing conditions and determining corridor needs–and is expected to end by mid-2018.
To this end, TxDOT officials held a series of public meeting for local residents in February and March to update the public on the study and receive feedback on traffic concerns.
At the public meetings held March 8 at Oak Ridge High School’s 9th Grade Campus, residents were able to learn what the study will provide and what benefits will come out of it. Residents were also able to give their goals for the study, which included improving safety on the corridor.
Phase 2 of the study will start in fall 2018 and end in 2020. TxDOT officials said it will include developing ideas and alternatives that support the corridor vision.
Vicky Rudy, city manager of Oak Ridge North, is on the I-45 Stakeholders Committee, a group made up of local city and county officials. She said the plan will help identify mobility needs on I-45 that will affect cities like Oak Ridge North.
“This is a just a study right now, and they are gathering information from everyone who is affected by this,” she said. “Any changes to I-45 could be decades away, but this is just a planning process that could [result]in future improvements to I-45.”
Montgomery County Precinct 3 is also working with TxDOT to develop solutions.
In 2017 an origin-destination study completed by Brown & Gay Engineers for Precinct 3 showed that cars headed to The Woodlands on I-45 included 22 percent of cars driving north from the Grand Parkway, 31 percent of cars driving south from Hwy. 242 and 25 percent of cars driving north from the Hardy Toll Road.
As part of the origin study for Precinct 3, engineers also recommended creating a loop around The Woodlands using existing roads to divert traffic from cutting through the community.
While TxDOT has not announced any additional public hearings for Phase I of the project, public involvement will be required once the PEL study is complete, according to TxDOT.