Partnerships accelerate the Hwy. 290 expansion by 2 decades

Houston's rapid population growth has transformed the Hwy. 290 corridor from a two-lane road carrying about 15,000 vehicles per day 15 years ago to about 258,000 vehicles a day today, said Phil Wilson, executive director for Texas Department of Transportation, at a Sept. 26 meeting with TxDOT and elected officials.

"The Hwy. 290 corridor is one of 10 key projects we have identified around the state in need of our immediate attention and resolve," he said. "We have been working with our elected officials to get the funding and authority to make plans a reality. Cooperation with several partners for this tremendously large program is what is enabling TxDOT to provide congestion relief much faster than originally anticipated."

Initially, the project scope was limited to two areas at the Loop 610 and I-10 interchange and the section at Hwy. 290 and Beltway 8. TxDOT and the Harris County Toll Road Authority entered into a memorandum of understanding in April, which helped move the project schedule forward. The proposal calls for the installation of an interim managed lane concept from Loop 610 to the Grand Parkway, which involves the addition of one general-purpose lane in each direction with two or three reversible managed lanes for high-occupancy vehicles and tolled traffic running down the center of the corridor.

The total managed lanes project cost is estimated at $1.8 billion with about $1.4 billion provided by TxDOT and $400 million as part of the agreement with HCTRA. $375 million was made available through TxDOT's supplemental funds and will allow the advancement of construction on all five projects encompassed by the Hwy. 290 expansion.

Before the partnerships, there was no funding for projects aside from the areas at the Loop 610 interchange and Hwy. 290 and Beltway 8. In January, the Texas Transportation Commission authorized the distribution of $300 million—known as Rider 42 funding—through Proposition 12 funds to alleviate traffic on the state's top 50 most congested corridors.

"As we stand today, we have that funding available," said Mike Alford, TxDOT district engineer. "By us moving forward and working on developing the design, we can meet these new deadlines."

The Texas Legislature empowered TxDOT to move forward by appropriating the remaining $3 billion of the total $5 billion required for the program. TxDOT is a benefactor of about $168 million from legislators through Rider 42 appropriations, bringing the total receipt for the Hwy. 290 project Proposition 12 funding to $500 million, Alford said.

"[This project] could save drivers more than 20 minutes a day in drive time," Wilson said. "This project is advancing 20 years ahead of schedule. Within the past year, the Texas Transportation Commission authorized the use of Rider 42 funds in conjunction with the $2 billion allocated to help solidify partnerships with Houston-Galveston Area Council, Harris County, the Federal Highway Administration, the City of Houston and Houston Metro to accelerate the development and construction of Hwy. 290."

After designating $78 million from Rider 42 funding to be used for right of way acquisition and utility relocations for the Beltway 8 and Hwy. 290 segment, the project has been accelerated by three years. This section of the project was sent to let earlier this month, Alford said.

With heavy construction scheduled along nearly the entire corridor, TxDOT plans on improving the traffic flow on parallel Hempstead Road, which is expected to be used as overflow for daily commuters, Alford said.

There are several other projects expected to go to bid in the next two months through 2014 with completion scheduled for 2016. In the next two weeks, TxDOT will take bids for the next segment of the Loop 610 and I-10 interchange. Short duration projects include improvements to the intersections between Eldridge and Cypress Rosehill near Fry Road.

A public hearing will be scheduled by TxDOT by the end of the year to discuss plans for the Hwy. 290 expansion.