TxDOT held public meetings this week on plans to alleviate congestion on one of the busiest freeways in the state.
Commuters and residents were asked to give input on plans to build reversible managed lanes on U.S. 290, similar to the ones now in use on the Katy Freeway. The managed lanes would carry vehicles with more than one person, and they could also be used by single drivers willing to pay a toll.
50 years ago Highway 290 was a two-lane road that carried about 15,000 vehicles a day, but that number has increased dramatically because of residential and business development northwest of Houston. About a quarter of a million vehicles now use the freeway daily, and those hefty numbers have put 290 on the state's list of most congested freeways. There's also about 1500 wrecks every year.
TxDOT says it will cost about $1.8 billion to build the lanes from the 610 Loop to State Highway 99. The Harris County Toll Road Authority is pitching in $400 million. TxDOT's Karen Othon says they're now waiting on Federal Highway Administration approval and they hope to start taking construction bids in March. The section of managed lanes from I-610 to to State Highway 6 is expected to be under construction by fall of 2013.
Othon says long-term plans call for a toll road along the nearby Hempstead corridor, but that project may not happen for another 20 years. She adds if the Hempstead toll road becomes a reality the 290 managed lanes would be converted to general purpose lanes.
The Sierra Club is out with its list of the 50 best and worst transportation projects in the country. Two Houston projects make the list.
Getting high marks is Metro's light rail expansion, which is lauded as a way to improve air quality by getting people out of their cars. But the organization didn't have such a favorable view of the Grand Parkway's "Segment E" project. The Sierra Club has long battled in court to try to stop construction on the northwest segment, saying the roadway will harm sensitive wetlands and increase flooding.
The group was also critical of a couple of other Texas projects, including Texas State Highway 45 Southwest in Austin and the Trinity River Parkway in Dallas. You can see the Sierra Club's complete list here.
As more Houstonians embrace cycling as a way to get around, a non-profit group is rewarding children with bikes for learning how to read. Volunteers with the group "Elves and More" have been at Reliant Center, building bikes for low-income kids who attend 26 area schools.
Elves and More Executive Director Rebecca Roberts says bikes serve as basic transportation for children who come from homes that may not own a car. Now they can visit friends, or go places in the neighborhood. Volunteer Louis Vetrano says he loves seeing the huge smiles the kids get on their faces, because the bikes represent excitement and adventure.
KUHF's Pat Hernandez reports that Elves and More has donated about 126,000 bikes to area kids. You can listen to his story here.
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