Following are historical items leading up to the start of construction of the Katy Freeway.
Comments Supporting Reconstruction the Katy Freeway
Presented to the Transportation Policy Council
July 26, 2002
Roger H. Hord, President, West Houston Association
My name is Roger Hord. I am President of the West Houston Association, a group formed in 1979 to promote improved infrastructure and quality of life in western Harris and north Fort Bend counties. Today, on behalf of these member companies, the hundreds of additional commercial interests and their tens of thousands of employees in west Houston who travel or avoid Interstate 10, I want to simply say Interstate 10 has a green light and its time to get started.
My comments will be brief as much of the need for the project has already been discussed as has been the very lengthy and involved planning and public involvement process. I want to thank this committee for its supportive actions over the years which have been instrumental in getting this project in position to be constructed.
As a rapidly growing urban area, there is no doubt Houston’s traffic and related congestion are significant challenges requiring each agency and this committee to continual refine plans and capital programs. Arcane conformity rules needlessly compound this challenge. In an area of 4 million people, transportation planning is a significant responsibility. Being familiar with groups similar to this around the country, I can say that your work here is of highest quality.
From the vantage point of the West Houston Association, each of you undertakes this difficult task very well. You balance the many competing demands for funding of individual projects and the Metropolitan Transportation Plan as a whole. Your mindfulness of and attention to the impacts of these projects are equally as important. We commend you for your attentiveness to the many and growing number of environmental issues resulting from implementing transportation projects in the region and your ability to adequately address these concerns.
One case in point to illustrate this attention to detail and responsiveness is the reconstruction of the Katy Freeway from the CBD to the Brazos River and in particular the first phase from Loop 610 to the City of Katy. The need for rebuilding is painfully obvious to anyone:
To begin the reconstruction, the paralleling rail right of way was purchased in 1993. The process was formally begun with the major investment study in 1995 and was completed 5 years ago, in 1997. The environmental impact process was begun after that and the record of decision was received in 2002.
The resulting project is the product of years of experience with freeways not only in Houston but around the state and nation. Capacity and safety will improve dramatically mostly by virtue of an improved design that incorporates acceleration and weaving lanes omitted from the current 1960’s design. Only one additional through general purpose lane will be added each direction. A unique feature is the 4 lane managed use lanes in the center of the facility. Their existence makes this project ultimately flexible for moving traffic and transit and will be fully utilized in both the peak and non-peak hours.
Rail can be a component utilizing the center lanes at a point when Metro receives public authorization and funding. Until that time, we will enjoy a massive increase in transit capacity—up to 60 buses per peak hour, I am told, in both directions. This will be a state of the art facility and one that sets a high standard.
Getting this project to this point has been a herculean task. In our view, it is the best work done by the Texas Department of Transportation. For years, they have sought out public and business comments—good and bad—and have responded to each and every concern. They have addressed all of the project’s expected environmental impacts. As I said earlier the light is green and its time to get started.
The Katy corridor was the subject of environmental and transportation studies for more than a decade. There is no reason to believe that additional studies will produce a better result, because when they are finished someone will assert that there are even newer facts and issues that must be considered.
The courts have said that at some point it is necessary for decision-makers to call an end to studies and make a decision. The courts have said that if you decide that a new study is needed because something has changed since the last study was completed, there will always be something new and you will never stop studying the problem. A decade of studies is enough, and it is now time to proceed.
Because the 21 miles of Interstate 10 are essentially the only east-west artery on the west side, employers and employees along the corridor and beyond are totally dependent on decisions to proceed without delay.
Reprinted from the Houston Chronicle, June 22, 2002, 6:43PM
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 tomorrow.
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 proposed.
·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 prohibitively expensive.
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 freeway’s expansion.
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 roadways.
·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 Transportation Commission.
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 DirectorsSupporting Innovative Construction Financing for Rapid Construction and Expanded Capacity on Interstate 10Responding 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 program.
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:
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 needless obstacles.
April 17, 2002
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.
Congressman John 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.
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 issues.
Announcement of Congressman John Culberson on the Approval of Katy Toll Lanes by FHWA
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
An Assessment of an expedited Katy Freeway Development Alternative
The proposed reconstruction of the critically needed Katy Freeway Interstate 10 between Loop 610 and Katy is at serious risk of a delayed start and protracted schedule. 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.
To 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.
By 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 current schedule.
Project Cost & Financing
Based 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.
This 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.
Also, 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.
Taken from a Report Prepared by the West Houston Association, January 2001.
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 Katy Freeway website
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.
Planning for Growth in Greater West Houston