Commissioners approve initial proposal to add toll lanes to Highways 288, 290

April 10, 2012 3:27:56 PM PDT
Harris County commissioners are considering adding toll lanes to two very congested highways, easing traffic by charging for roads taxpayers already paid for. Both highways are areas where you can find a traffic jam almost any time of day.

Commissioners have voted on an initial proposal which contains an outline of the problems on Highway 290 and Highway 288, as well as a plan to fix them. But not everyone likes it.

The commissioners have unanimously approved this memorandum of understanding. That memo is basically a proposal and commissioners would like the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to meet a number of requirements including paying back Harris County the money it still owes -- including $77 million for the Grand Parkway Project -- or putting that amount toward a future project.

That money would come in the form of credits given to Harris County during the course of this project. The county requires the right to use its own engineers and also said that it must receive "adequate fees" for toll operation.

The plan is to improve traffic conditions along 290 and 288 using toll lanes. Under the terms, the county is spending $400 million on 290 and receiving twice that amount in matching funds from TxDOT, according to the Harris County Toll Road Authority's executive director.

The proposal calls for an additional free lane in each direction on 290, between Loop 610 and the Grand Parkway, and for two to three toll lanes in the center.

The plan for 288 is to add two toll lanes from U.S. 59 to the edge of the Brazoria County line.

"If you just look at 288, it was designed from the beginning to have toll lanes down the middle, so I think the state can move fairly quickly," said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

Anything past the Brazoria County line does not fall under Harris County's authority, so that cannot be affected by this plan.

The deal also calls for improvements to Almeda and Cullen, with an eventual link from 288 to the Texas Medical Center. Drivers we talked to say they're willing to shell out cash to get out of traffic.

"Sometimes it takes us 30, 40 minutes to get to our destination because it gets crowded, especially after the holidays like Easter," said Juan Lorado,

"I think a lot of people are willing to pay just to hurry up and to get where they need to go. I don't know if I would do it everyday, but I think I probably would just to try it out to see how it is," Roddie Flores said.

Opponents say this is risky business since the state still owes Harris County $770 million from the Grand Parkway Project.

Art Storey, the executive director of the Harris Co. Toll Road Authority, called this "a worthy and significant step forward." However, he expressed caution regarding whether TxDOT will abide by the terms, saying, "We will see."

This is just a proposal at this time and the beginning of a process, not a vote to break ground on the project. However, Judge Emmett did say if everything moves smoothly, ground could be broken on the 288 toll road sometime next year.

Judge Emmett added that this plan is good both for residents in the congested areas and for those trying to pass through them during rush hour.

Both 290 and 288 are among TxDOT's 100 most congested road segments.


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