Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) transportation planners presented to the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) a proposal to pilot a Planning and Readiness Predevelopment Program to study the purpose and determine an actual need for several highway projects the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is requesting be amended to the already approved 2045 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP).
Following the presentation of the pilot proposal, TAC members, who advise H-GAC’s Transportation Policy Council (TPC), noted that “there are many alternatives to a freeway,” and that local jurisdictions must have a say in the planning processes from the start. A TAC member representing the City of Pearland stated that the “community does not want” six-lane+ highways, while the City of Houston representatives indicated that the predetermined solutions that TxDOT is proposing no longer work.
These predetermined solutions for which TxDOT is seeking amendment approval for include a new elevated six lane highway on Spur 5/Highway 35, express lanes elevated over I-10 Katy Freeway from the 610 West Loop to downtown, and elevated express lanes over the 610 West Loop. The TxDOT representative tried to pressure TAC members, stating that the urgency for the I-10 project, for example, is related to METRONext Inner Katy Bus Rapid Transit project and any potential delay for TxDOT would affect METRO’s implementation. The METRO representative clarified that this is simply not true. TxDOT also repeatedly stated that if the projects are not included in the 2045 RTP, the agency would somehow lack the resources to participate in the proposed planning studies.
TxDOT’s pressuring tactics failed, as the TAC voted almost unanimously to approve H-GAC’s proposed planning studies on each corridor. The sole “no” vote came from TxDOT. The TAC will present these recommendations to the TPC for final approval later this month.
During the discussion, TAC members repeatedly pointed out that the proposal to study each corridor does not mean the projects would not receive approval at some point in the future. TAC members simply requested a pause to work with the public to determine the best mobility solution. TxDOT’s threat, real or feigned, not to come to the table as a planning partner demonstrates yet again the state agency’s “our way, or no way” mentality, when other more collaborative and equitable paths exist.
We welcome the public discourse and shifting winds. The region will benefit as stakeholders increasingly work together with the public to identify more mutually supported alternatives for major transportation projects. This is one example of the beginnings of systemic change. Your voice matters. Your vision matters. We can all expect our local and state governments to stretch, learn, and create better solutions that improve mobility, connectivity and help address climate change impacts in more equitable ways.
July 16, 2021