|Reprinted from the Houston Chronicle,
June 22, 2002, 6:43PM
Get the Katy
How to ease congestion with a minimum of disruption
By JOHN R. BUTLER JR.
In Houston, there's only one idea worse than the Katy
Freeway as it is today, and that's the Katy Freeway under construction
But thanks to an innovative construction plan proposed by
the Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA), we can turn the Katy into a
free-flowing asset to our regional quality of life and economy without
enduring the time-sapping traffic snarls that normally accompany major
roadwork. Traffic on the Katy-in-progress should never get worse than it is
today, and the freeway will soon be transformed from an urban nightmare into
a model for 21st- century mobility. That should be welcome news for area
commuters, since the Katy is arguably the most gridlocked freeway in
Houston, which earned the title of the nation's fifth most-congested city in
a study released last week by the Texas Transportation Institute.
The toll road authority proposes a linear strategy for
rebuilding the Katy. New lanes will be completed from the eastern starting
point at the West Loop, all the way to the western terminus at FM 1463, in
the city of Katy. Work will start in the northern right of way, which
encompasses the former railroad right of way and Old Katy Road, and will
move southward across the existing freeway with 20-mile-long ribbons of new
east-west lanes. Under this proposed strategy, existing lanes will not be
put out of service for reconstruction until new lanes are in operation.
Bottom line: At no time during construction will the Katy
have fewer lanes in service than it does today. When it is finished, the
Katy will be a national example for innovation and interagency cooperation
in design and execution. The new freeway will have 8-10 main lanes, a
four-lane tollway in the center from Loop 610 West to State Highway 6, and
six service-road lanes. Where appropriate, additional lanes will be provided
for entrance acceleration and exit deceleration.
The reconstruction strategy may sound pretty simple and
obvious, but it is nothing short of revolutionary. Up to now, most freeways
have been built in short, road-mile segments that extend across the entire
right of way, creating obstacle courses for months or even years.
This summer, the three agencies which have interests in
rebuilding the Katy -- the Texas Department of Transportation, the
Metropolitan Transit Authority and HCTRA -- will have the opportunity to
give a green light to the proposed design, the innovative construction
phasing and fast-track implementation.
The West Houston Association, a public and business
interest group in West Houston, has an enthusiastic message for the freeway
builders: "Let's roll!"
There's no denying that expanding the Katy has been a
controversial topic, with many groups and individuals raising concerns about
rail, urban sprawl and the need for 20-plus lanes. But there are many
compelling reasons to move full-speed ahead with the project as currently
·Rail is still an option. There has been some concern that
rail is a "now or never" proposition for the Katy corridor -- that if a
light-rail line is not built down the middle of the freeway instead of the
toll lanes, then adding rail in the future will be impossible or
If we rebuild the Katy as designed today, rail will still
be an option, and won't necessarily entail a costly elevated track. If we
reach a consensus as a community that rail is the answer to our mobility
problems, then Metro has the legal right to acquire from the toll road
authority grade-level right of way down the Katy's center.
In the interim, Metro transit vehicles will be allowed use
of the toll lanes at no toll cost to Metro. The toll lane capacity will
allow Metro to offer an almost unlimited transit schedule. During peak
times, Metro vehicles will benefit from virtually unimpeded return trips.
·An expanded Katy won't start sprawl. Growth (or some call
it sprawl) is already here, and we must deal with this reality or face the
consequences of gridlock and its accompanying economic and quality of life
negatives. Even if not one additional office building or home is ever built
along the Katy, there is more than adequate need today to justify the
The Katy was designed for approximately 120,000 vehicles
per day. Typical weekday traffic now approaches 250,000 vehicles, with more
than 16,000 truck units of traffic. Simply put, the Katy does not meet
current TxDOT and American Association of State Highway and Transportation
Officials design standards. As far back as 1994, the Katy was experiencing
an accident rate 33 percent higher than the statewide average for similar
·Economic development is another concern. West Houston is
home to Houston's thriving "Energy Corridor," whose users read like a "Who's
Who" list of the world's largest energy companies. Together, these companies
and many more have 60,000 employees in 12 million square feet of office
space. When employees can't get to and from work and meetings, companies
lose millions of dollars in productivity annually. If not corrected,
gridlock can have a chilling effect on economic growth, if not start a
downright exodus of companies.
A 20-lane Katy will be no bigger -- only better -- than
other Houston corridors. While Houston is collectively screaming for relief
from the Katy's current traffic jam, there has been some concern that a
20-lane Katy Freeway is simply too big.
The truth is that the design for the Katy includes no more
lanes than the North Freeway and the Hardy Toll Road combined, or the
Southwest Freeway and the approved Westpark Tollway combined. I-45/Hardy and
U.S. 59/Westpark are each, for all practical purposes, single transportation
corridors. With its toll lanes in the center, the unified Katy corridor is
actually a superior design.
Rebuilding the Katy Freeway with an innovative fast-track
plan will create a model project -- one that will give Houston bragging
rights to several national "firsts."
It will be the first time several major agencies have
cooperated to reconstruct and expand a major freeway in such a rapid and
user-friendly manner. It will be the first time that toll lanes, a
market-driven solution to traffic congestion, have been built down the
middle of a major freeway. And it will be the first time a major freeway has
incorporated a forward-looking design with built-in flexibility for
accommodating rail or other transit alternatives. The highway planners have
the right vision and the right plan. Let's give them the green light.
Butler, a Houstonian, is a former board member of the
Metropolitan Transit Authority and a former member of the Texas
The reconstruction of Houston's Interstate 10, the Katy Freeway, is the most important
transportation project in West Houston and one of the most ambitious
transportation projects the State of Texas has ever undertaken. Harris
County and TxDOT have recently authorized an evaluation of an innovative
approach to the reconstruction of the Katy Freeway that could move construction
start to 2002 and compress the project's construction period from 12 to 6 years.
At $1 billion, the 21-mile project represents the largest single effort of the Texas Department of
Transportation Houston District. I-10 from Houston's Central Business
District west to the City of Katy is the most congested stretch of freeway in the
Houston area. This section of the coast-to-coast Interstate 10 carries
more truck traffic than any other freeway in Texas.
Resolution of the
Board of Directors
Supporting Innovative Construction Financing for Rapid Construction and
Expanded Capacity on Interstate 10
Responding to the vitally important need for immediate commencement of
construction and the shortest possible construction period in the Interstate
10 Katy corridor, the Board of Directors of the West Houston Association
endorses the tolled managed use lanes concept and the innovative
construction scheduling and financing package proposed by Harris County to
the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
Given the state-wide funding constraints TxDOT faces, only through formal
agreement that includes Harris County’s financing will the critically needed
reconstruction of Interstate 10 from Loop 610 to Katy be advanced and the
schedule compressed to a reasonable and acceptable period. This can only be
achieved with an agreement for accelerated right-of-way purchases and
utility relocation as well as an innovative linear construction phasing
The resulting project will immediately and significantly increase both
roadway and transit capacity in what is now an unsafe and excessively
congested corridor. Not only will the potential for transit be increased
significantly by virtue of the added capacity in the managed lanes, but the
unique construction phasing keeps open the option for future development of
an even higher capacity transit facility, on condition that Metro:
- Attains specific results of an investment and utilization study for
rail in the Katy corridor,
- Is allowed by a future public referendum authorizing rail in I-10 West
as one of its transit options,
- Secures funding for their I-10 West improvements, and
- First implements rail to the west in right of way it already owns in
the Westpark Corridor.
The Association calls upon our regional and state elected leadership to
make an all out effort to assure that the tolled managed use lanes in the
Katy Freeway, which has received all formal approvals, now moves
expeditiously and overcomes potentially threatening, distracting and
April 17, 2002
NEW KATY TOLLROAD PROPOSAL
Harris County and TxDOT have established
a model for a major interstate reconstruction program which infuses approximately $500 million from the
County and the Harris County Toll Road Authority into the project. Here is
the current status and a summary of the original proposal.
Transportation Commission Approved Harris County Agreement in January, 2003
Culberson & Texas Transportation Chairman Johnny Johnson have announced that the Texas Transportation Commission is set to
approve at its January 23rd meeting an historic, model setting agreement with Harris
County to develop Interstate 10 West. The agreement would implement the
the tolled managed use lanes in the center of the freeway. Construction is
to begin on Interstate in June, 2003.
Approved by FHWA March 7,2002
The proposal for
tolled managed use lanes in the center of the reconstructed Katy Freeway has
received approval from the Federal Highway Administration. Congressmen
John Culberson and Tom DeLay announced the approval on March 18, 2002. In
a letter dated March 7, 2002, FHWA Division Director Dan Reagan says that the
proposed tolled managed use lanes is covered by the existing value pricing pilot
program currently in operation in the Katy Freeway HOV lane.
In addition to the main benefit of an
earlier start and sooner completion as mentioned above, this approach would make
the project more accessible to motorists while preserving options for transit in
the corridor. Here is a brief description of the project, its origins and
Announcement of Congressman John Culberson on the Approval of Katy Toll Lanes by
107th Congress, Second Session
Week of March 18 - March 22
Katy Freeway: Congressman DeLay and I hosted a press conference on Monday, March
18, 2002, announcing the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) approval of the
nation's first-ever construction of toll lanes on an existing interstate--I-10,
the Katy Freeway. The toll lanes will generate up to $500 million in revenue
from the Harris County Toll Road Authority which will complete the funding for
the Katy Freeway expansion project and could cut construction time in half, to
six years. This project is one of the largest in Texas history. Below are FHWA
approval highlights and a Katy Freeway expansion timeline:
FHWA Approval Highlights
On March 7, 2002, the Federal Highway Administration approved the Harris County
Toll Road Authority and the Texas Department of Transportation's application for
the value pricing pilot program, a program aimed at reducing highway congestion
and improving mobility using toll lanes;
This will be the nation's first-ever construction of toll lanes on an existing
interstate--I-10, the Katy Freeway, and one of the largest transportation
projects in Texas history;
This approval allows county officials to begin construction on Harris County
Judge Robert Eckels' toll road proposal which includes four toll lanes, two in
each direction, down the center of the Katy Freeway;
It also allows the Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) to invest up to
$500 million towards the reconstruction of I-10, thus completing funding for the
project and potentially cutting construction time in half, to six years;
Value pricing is a way of easing highway congestion by providing a toll road
alternative that varies by time of day and level of congestion;
Benefits of the value pricing program include: reduced frustration and delay,
increased travel choices, more efficient modal choices, revenue generation,
increased economic productivity, and improved highway investment decisions.
Katy Freeway Expansion Timeline
April 2001 -- The Texas Transportation Commission unanimously decided to begin
negotiations with Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) to determine the
feasibility of creating four toll lanes down the center of the Katy Freeway;
November 2001 -- The United States House of Representatives voted on a
transportation bill that would earmark $7 million for the Katy Freeway project;
December 2001 -- The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDoT) and HCTRA
applied for the value pricing pilot program, a program aimed at reducing highway
congestion and improving mobility;
January 15, 2002 -- The Federal Highway Administration signed the Record of
Decision on the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The statement
concluded that the Katy Freeway expansion project adheres to environmental
standards and the design and construction phases can proceed;
March 7, 2002 -- FHWA approved the value pricing pilot program application;
May 2003 -- Construction is scheduled to begin on the Katy Freeway. The first
sign will be the relocation of utility lines at the I-10 / 610 interchange north
of the freeway
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Assessment of an expedited Katy Freeway Development Alternative
proposed reconstruction of the critically needed Katy Freeway Interstate
10 between Loop 610 and Katy is at serious risk of a delayed start and
The greatest fear is that the construction of the Katy Freeway will
pattern that of the Eastex or Southwest Freeways where years of delay
caused significant disruption and increased construction costs.
insure against delays, the West Houston Association supports an aggressive
tactic that involves blending advanced state funding with the sale of
revenue bonds and the creation of a local government corporation to
expedite right of way acquisition and construction.
accelerating construction and completing the project in 2006 rather than
2010, the proposal outlined here would have positive benefits to the
system users and taxpayers far in excess of what we can expect from the
reduced traffic delay benefits of 8 to 9 million hours of travel time
with an associated user benefit of $ 85 million per year and $300 to
350 million between 2007 and 2010 would be saved if the project were
early completion would save inflation on construction costs.
On an estimated project cost of $900 million, accelerated
construction could reduce the inflationary impact by $65 million.
rapid acquisition of right of way as is proposed here will avoid the
certain cost escalation of property needed for the project
conservatively estimated to be in 5 to 6 percent annually.
completion in 2006 would dramatically reduce the disruption to
adjacent residential and commercial development, opening western
Harris County to vastly improved access 4 years ahead of current
County and the Texas Department of Transportation would enter into an
agreement whereby Harris County, through a local government corporation (LGC)
and the Harris County Toll Road Authority, would issue bonds, purchase the
right of way, contract for utility relocation, construct the project and
operate the center four lanes as a revenue producing express toll
reconstructed I-10 would have 14 lanes:
4 express toll lanes; 8 general-purpose lanes; and two HOV/diamond
lanes. The toll lanes would be separated on each side from the other
lanes by 10-12 foot shoulder and a two-foot buffer. They would not be separated with a concrete barrier.
The express lanes would have 5 access points including the western
and eastern ends. The express
lanes would operate exclusively with the EZ Tag system.
As an option, buses could operate on the toll facility, thus
eliminating the need for the diamond lanes.
Cost & Financing
upon information available in December, 2000, construction of the project
is estimated to cost $907 million with right of way and utility cost
adding an additional $264 million for a total of $1.17 billion.
proposal calls for the State of Texas, using the approximate $590 million
already committed, to continue the development of the project.
Additionally the state would agree to reimburse Harris County/Toll
Road Authority/LGC $250 million these entities will advance to complete
the non-tolled portions of the Katy reconstruction.
The state would reimbursement Harris County over a period not to
exceed 15 years. The
State of Texas would not pay any interest.
the Harris County Toll Authority would issue bonds totaling $250 million
plus or minus to pay the finance, construction and operation costs of the
4 express toll lanes and the related shoulders.
Revenue from the toll facility will retire the bonds financing its
construction and the interest on the money advanced to the state.
a rough, preliminary assessment of revenue potential, Wilbur Smith
Associates estimated revenue from the Katy toll facility in the range of
$20-25 million in the year 2006 (estimated opening date) and $50-60
million by the year 2020.
proposal involves the State of Texas and Harris County entering into an
agreement for Harris County to construct and operate the four restricted
access toll lanes. As
mentioned above, Harris County would create a “local government
corporation” or LGC to finance, construct and operate the Interstate 10
project. An analysis by Vinson & Elkins indicates this proposal
would qualify under both federal and state law.
The agreement between the state and Harris County could be drafted
to avoid some restrictions of the Texas Constitution. Additionally, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation would be
requested to approve the project for a federal program allowing tolls on
from a Report Prepared by the West Houston Association, January 2001.
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Existing Proposal--Katy Record of Decision
on Environmental Impact is Received.
The proposal above accelerates the current proposal as
mentioned. Here is some information on the currently existing project and
process. The proposed project will be placed under construction in 2003 and current
estimates are that the last section will be put to contract in 2006. Click
here for a current estimated letting schedule and estimate of construction cost
by segment: Katy Schedule
As important is the need to assure alternative routes (arterials) are
completed prior to the start of construction on the Katy Freeway. All of
the local agencies are working toward completing key projects that will help
traffic flow during construction. Click for an updated list of possible
projects: Alternative Thoroughfares
Check information at the official
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Metro Proposes to Study Rail in the Katy Freeway Corridor
Metro, TxDOT and Harris County are working together to
maximize transportation benefits in the I-10 West corridor. The current
proposal for I-10 would increase transit capacity significantly.
Also, in a letter to TxDOT dated March 15, Metro proposed to
build a rail line in the Interstate 10 corridor from Loop 610 to Katy.
Metro is not proposing that any work currently underway on the design or
right-of-way acquisition be delayed or jeopardized. TxDOT and Harris
County have told Metro, right-of-way for rail will be available when they have
funding and appropriate approvals for rail.
They are proposing to evaluate implementing a two way rail
line in the center 50 feet of the reconstructed freeway. Metro
said in the letter that it could prepare "an alternate design to build light
rail in the freeway median" on a "fast track" basis. This could be
presented to voters in the Metro service area in a November 2003 referendum,
with requests made to the federal government for consideration of funding the
I-10 facility after the election.
Presumably, Metro will have to
undertake a new major investment study (MIS) and environmental impact statement
(EIS) for the work on the rail as it would be a major change from the already
approved EIS for the existing proposal.
Metro is in the process of evaluating corridors (Metro
Transit 2025 Plan) in Houston to determine how transit can best serve them
in the future.
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