Early plans to expand a 30-mile stretch of Interstate 45 between downtown and Conroe are catching flak from residents who fear the project will rip-up their neighborhoods. The project would add new main lanes and expand the current right-of-way along the freeway.
Residents like Ken Lindow, who lives in the Heights near the freeway, say TxDOT’s recommended alternative for the roadway is incomplete and flawed. He says it needs more public input before it’s accepted by the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Transportation Policy Council. “If you want to destroy our neighborhoods, pick this plan. If you want to ruin the tax base of that part of Houston, pick this plan,” he says. “But if you want to do us the courtesy of looking at the alternate roads that can be used to divert traffic from I-45, eliminating the need for expansion, don’t choose this plan.”
The project would be half-again as large as the Katy Freeway expansion and include new HOV lanes and up to eight lanes of frontage roads, with a right-of-way that could expand from 225 feet to almost 400 feet. Jim Weston is chair of the I-45 Coalition. “We keep hearing the same thing, it’s too early to be talking about this. In the next blink of the eye it’s going to say it’s too late, it’s already written down,” says Weston. “This next phase, they’re going to do the alignment of the roadways. In this plan, they’re not giving any kind of range of minimum right-of-way to maximum right-of-way. They’re just going to say, well we’re going to try not to take right-of-way. Well, that right-of-way they’re going to try not to take is probably my house.”
Harris County Judge Robert Eckels is the chair of the HGAC’s Transportation Policy Council and agrees the proposal probably needs some work before it moves forward. He says the plan is far from a done deal and will take years of changes to complete.
TxDOT District Engineer Gary Trietsch understands the public’s concerns and says the agency expects to refine the plan and provide more details as the project progresses. “Unfortunately, it’s a long, drawn-out process. I’d like the anwser too, but we’ve got many months and years of detailed analysis and looking at different alternatives. The real hard work is going to come in the future,” says Trietsch.
He admits TxDOT’s early cost estimates are probably on the low side and will likely go up. Critics say the I-45 expansion could cost upwards of $3 billion, hundreds of millions more than the Katy’s price tag.