Issue 3 Volume 1, October 2009  
       
   
STATUS OF TRANSPORTATION PROJECTS
 
Harris County Toll Road Authority Projects

Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) has two major projects underway that, once completed, will ease traffic congestion around Harris County. The Sam Houston Tollway Northeast (Beltway 8 Northeast) and the Hardy Downtown Connector are both long-awaited projects.

Sam Houston Tollway Northeast Project
The final segment of the HCTRA’s Sam Houston Tollway is under construction and scheduled for completion in the spring of 2011. The 13-mile Sam Houston Tollway Northeast project stretches from Old Humble Road near George Bush Intercontinental Airport to just south of U.S. 90A. The toll road will consist of three lanes in each direction and will be flanked on each side by existing frontage roads.


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The main lanes of this segment will be open only to drivers with EZ TAGs. There will be no cash payments. The frontage roads will remain toll-free.

The new road will complete the Beltway 8/Sam Houston Tollway Loop, which covers 88 miles as it circles the Houston area. The latest link in the system should significantly improve travel for motorists in the northeast part of Harris County as well as provide more transportation options to drivers traveling through Houston. Construction of the $400 million project began in early July and is on schedule.

The roadway is expected to serve a growing population of residential and business development in the region.

Several new subdivisions and residential communities have recently been constructed or are already on the drawing boards. New commercial, retail and industrial development is also planned.

The Texas Data Center predicts Houston and Harris County will continue to experience significant population growth through 2040, and the Houston-Galveston Area Council projects much of that growth will be in the northeast part of Harris County near the new toll road.

The existing service roads, which have been in place for a number of years, often become clogged with traffic during morning and evening rush periods and the toll road will alleviate much of the congestion. There have been long-standing requests from the public for projects that would improve traffic flow in the area.

The project is also expected to reduce congestion on the region’s freeway system, especially Interstate 10, Loop 610 and U.S. 59. Designers expect the new segment will be used by motorists to bypass the central part of Houston.

The completion of the Sam Houston Tollway finishes a process that began more than 50 years ago. The idea of an outer loop highway system that would encircle the city at an average distance of about 12 miles from downtown Houston and connect to the radial freeways dates back to 1953.

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Hardy Downtown Connector Project

The Hardy Toll Road Downtown Connector project, which extends the Hardy Toll Road from its current terminus at 610 North Loop to downtown Houston, consists of four toll lanes (two in each direction) for a distance of 3.6 miles. This project will link the Hardy Toll Road directly into downtown Houston and should help alleviate congestion on the North Loop, North Freeway and U.S. 59. It will complete a vital traffic artery that first opened two decades ago. When finished, a visitor leaving George Bush Intercontinental Airport can enter the Hardy Toll Road and drive all the way to downtown Houston without stopping.

The Hardy Downtown Connector project has a total estimated cost of $400 million paid for entirely by toll revenue. No tax dollars are being used. The road will be adjacent to one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city and will play a large role in alleviating traffic congestion in this neighborhood because several at-grade railroad crossings will be removed. The new grade-separated crossings will eliminate time lost waiting for trains and will improve safety for commuters and pedestrians alike. Designers have also included extensive landscaping details into the plan using native trees, shrubs and grasses wherever feasible.

The current engineering designs call for reconstruction of Collingsworth Street where it meets the railroad tracks and rebuilding Quitman and Lorraine streets where they meet the toll road and the railroad tracks.


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The City of Houston approved an ordinance in August 2009 authorizing Harris County to design, construct and fund the reconstruction of Lorraine Street in connection with the extension of the Hardy Toll Road South.

The passage of this ordinance was vital to moving the project ahead and a key component of its grade separation agreements with the HB&T Railroad Company. The railroad has agreed to rebuild their crossings at all three streets, with the railroad going over Lorraine Street and under Collingsworth and Quitman. Two additional agreements with the City of Houston will be needed for Collingsworth and Quitman Streets and are anticipated for fall 2009 and early 2010.

The Hardy Downtown connector project includes features intended to ensure the toll road does not negatively impact drainage in the area. About 45 acres have been purchased for use as storm water detention.

The first segment of the original Hardy Toll Road opened for traffic in 1988. The second portion opened a year later. The 21.6 mile road runs from northern Harris County near the Montgomery County line to Loop 610 in north Houston. In 2000, the Hardy Airport Connector linked the toll road directly to George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

The Hardy Toll Road provided a new and speedy thoroughfare serving far northern Harris County, downtown Houston and the airport. The toll road helped ease frequent traffic congestion on the North Freeway, but southbound motorists still have to exit the toll road at the North Loop. The extension of the toll road into downtown will finally complete a project begun more than 20 years ago. Final design of the Hardy Connector project is expected to be completed by fall 2010, with construction beginning in early 2011.

To view the progress of these two projects and other HCTRA construction projects currently underway or in the planning stage, visit https://www.hctra.org/about_construction/.

 

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Commuter Rail to Help Solve Mobility Issues

Harris County is home to some of the most congested roadways in Texas. As the county’s population continues to boom, transportation will be an even bigger challenge. With financial and space limits on highway construction, additional solutions are needed to improve mobility. Commuter rail on existing railroad tracks holds great potential. Improving air quality by taking cars off the road also makes commuter rail an attractive mode of transportation.

Commuter rail differs from light rail and other forms of railway passenger service in a number of ways. Commuter rail normally involves traditional trains powered by diesel/electric locomotives operating on existing freight rail lines, while light rail operates in a dedicated right of way (as in Houston’s Main Street Red Line) and is powered by overhead electric wires. Since commuter rail accommodates mostly long-distance trips within a region, usually between the outlying areas and the main metropolitan hub, stations are farther apart (around five miles), and trips peak at the morning and evening commute times.

Recent studies for the Houston-Galveston Area Council have identified two key “early implementation” corridors for development as part of a long-distance commuter rail system in the Harris County region. The first, called the 290/Hempstead corridor, is located in northwest Harris County and is planned to use the existing Union Pacific Railroad “Eureka” line. It begins at the Eureka Junction at the intersection of Old Hempstead Highway and Old Katy Road near Interstate 10. This project has been identified as the most critical commuter transit project in the Houston region because of the tremendous growth in northwest Harris County.

A second identified corridor along State Highway 3 will connect Galveston and communities in southeast Harris County to the Houston area. This line not only will provide an alternative to congested freeway corridors, but will also provide additional means of emergency evacuation during hurricanes.

Recently, the Union Pacific Railroad has offered to make these two rail corridors available for commuter rail. Working with the Gulf Coast Rail District, the goal is to have both lines in operation in time to connect to METRO’s expanded light rail system so commuters can experience seamless rail transportation to the numerous employment centers and other destinations in the greater Houston area.

 

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