Harris County Tries to Diffuse Confusion

The Katy Freeway extends 40-miles from the central business district west to the Brazos River. It was designed to carry over 79-thousand vehicles per per day. 40-years later, it now carries more than three times that. The reconstruction program will add more lanes between the 610 loop to the city of Katy. Some people attending the first public meeting blasted Harris County Toll Road deputy director Peter Key for turning the Katy into a toll road.

"Not the case, absolutely not the case. The managed lanes, which probably the community has heard about a lot lately, are really a glorified HOV and mass transit lane. Sometime in 2009, will also be allowed to be used by those willing to pay a toll. It's a choice, its an option."

The confusion lead Harris County Judge Ed Emmett to include it on the Commissioner's Court agenda.

"Somebody jumps up and says afterwards...I confess, I read blogs. I shouldn't but, somebody writes into the blog: 'HOW DARE THEY PUT A TOLL ON WHAT WAS A FREE HIGHWAY PAID FOR BY THE TAXPAYERS?' Well, nobody did that, but people sometimes hear what they want to hear, not what's reality."

Harris County Engineer Art Storey says he can understand why there has been so much confusion.

"There's more pavement out there than there's ever been before, and some of it is separated from the free lanes, and people generally want to know what it is. So, that's why we spend this amount of time trying to explain that the managed lanes are really expanded capacity HOV lanes."

Judge Emmett says when you build something new like the four managed lanes in the middle, it takes some getting used to.

"When West Park Tollway was built and it was E-Z tag only. People went 'OH MY GOSH, YOU DON'T HAVE ANY TOLL BOOTHS'. But, it obviously worked out and people use it just fine. The managed lanes are the same way. People will adjust to them. There are two going each direction, 24 hours a day, versus the reversible HOV lanes that are there now."

Waskowiak: "I think people will like it, once they get used to it, once the lane's open."

Pat Waskowiak with the Houston-Galveston area council says other public meetings should clarify the confusion about the project. Bottom line, it will mean more capacity on the free lanes and more transit capacity on the managed lanes.

Pat Hernandez, KUHF...Houston Public Radio News.
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