How many times have we heard this before and it never comes to fruition? There can be no doubt that Texas is a growing state. But the traffic boom being predicted for the future Interstate I-69, one of the NAFTA superhighways formerly known as the Trans Texas Corridor, isn't as much about people as it is about moving goods. I-69 is a NAFTA trade route to benefit multi-national companies importing goods from the deep water port in Mexico called Lazaro Cardenas into the interior of the United States and eventually into Canada, not the average Texan.
Also, since I-69 will primarily entail upgrades to US Hwy 59 and since there's no identified funds to complete it, it's likely to be a toll road. What we're seeing on US 281, US 290, parts of Hwy 183, and elsewhere, is TxDOT exploiting divided highways that have stop lights at the crossovers by converting them to toll lanes once it's upgraded to a controlled access highway with overpasses, leaving frontage roads as the only non-toll option. So Texans beware. All this propaganda is designed to persuade the public that this future toll road is necessary to accommodate future growth. In reality, the priority needs to be fixing the congestion that's already here in our urban areas before we sink massive state resources into a trade route for big business.
Houston's I-69 traffic expected to soar to 350,000 by 2035
By Cindy Horswell
Updated 10:35 a.m., Monday, August 6, 2012
If you think the Southwest Freeway is a nightmare at rush hour now, check back in 20 years.
As the transformation of U.S. 59 in Houston to Interstate 69 continues, projections show an increase in traffic of up to 150 percent by 2035. Experts say traffic will increase regardless of whether the so-called NAFTA Superhighway, envisioned two decades ago as a trade route from Mexico through Houston to Canada, is fully built.
Gov. Rick Perry initially proposed a more elaborate Trans-Texas Corridor that would be an entirely new thoroughfare that included room for rail and utilities. But that plan was defeated by farm and ranch groups championing property rights and others opposed to a toll road component.
Now the pared-down plan calls for using existing roads, some of which must be upgraded to divided four-lane highways with access roads. Also, dangerous grade-level streets crossing these highways must be replaced with overpasses.
Grass-roots committees appointed by the Texas Transportation Commission to study how to make the 1,000-mile trek through Texas unanimously endorsed dual use of U.S. 59 for the new interstate as it winds from Texarkana through Houston to Laredo. The committees also included two other highways that branch off U.S. 59 - U.S. 77 for motorists traveling to Brownsville and U.S. 281 for those going to McAllen.
300% freight increase
Houston's segment, which already experiences traffic pileups and is not scheduled for any expansion under the plan, would be hit with the largest increase in traffic volume on Texas' interstate route.
"But that traffic is coming to us no matter what we do. We are going to see a huge increase in freight — more than 300 percent in a little over a decade," said a committee member, Ashby Johnson, the Houston-Galveston Area Council's deputy transportation director. "Some of it is coming from NAFTA and some of it's from the widening of the Panama Canal."
Besides increased trade, the Houston region must grapple with rapid population growth. The area is expected to reach 8.8 million by 2035 - a 51 percent increase.
That same year, traffic is expected to leap 60 percent to 350,000 vehicles daily, including 24,000 trucks, in the stretch of 59 that wraps around downtown Houston.
Outlying stretches of this highway are projected to experience a 150 percent increase, to 225,000 vehicles, near Porter in Montgomery County and 240,000 near Sugar Land in Fort Bend County, according to the report by the grass-roots committee.
No expansion planned
Nonetheless, the report does not call for expansion of that stretch of roadway. It does recommend exploring traffic relief options such as a bypass around the city for those traveling long distances.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, a grass-roots committee member, said developing a plan to deal with the traffic is critical.
"Everyone agreed a bypass needs to be done," he said. "It's something that's been talked about for years, but it all costs money."
He would like to see a bypass on the county's east side that connects to the new interstate south of Wharton and reconnects north of Cleveland. Others, like Sierra Club transportation expert Dick Kallerman, would like to see tracks added to rail lines along this route so it could handle more freight.
"The Legislature has got to start adequately funding transportation. Within a couple of years, we'll only be able to maintain existing roads," Emmett said. "Then if goods can't be moved around adequately, that economic miracle we've seen in Texas will come to a grinding halt."
Perry's spokesman, Josh Havens, said the Legislature will review potential funding for the new interstate in January. He said it's too early to say what the governor will recommend.
The estimated cost of upgrades for the new interstate, excluding the 200 miles in Harris County, is $16.5 billion, the report said.
$626 million allocated
To date, the state has allocated $626 million for small projects along the route, including $40 million to widen the roadway and provide road access control in Liberty County and $13.6 million for a new overpass in Fort Bend County.
"We don't have the funds to do it all at once. The $16 billion price tag represents two years of our entire operating budget and would leave us with nothing else to do maintenance and potholes," said Doise Miers, the transportation department's community liaison. She noted almost two-thirds of the new interstate is in Texas.
Yet committee members believe the new interstate provides a critical link to national infrastructure for trade and transportation, especially since the Houston region contains the state's largest port and manufacturing center.
"I-69 is a big deal for our state," Haven said. "In order for Texas to remain the economic powerhouse it has been over the past decade, we must have an adequate transportation system."