Work to begin soon on Houston traffic hot spot

HOUSTON They want to start expanding the clogged Northwest Freeway, starting with the interchange at the Loop in northwest Houston.

Drivers are hoping it comes sooner rather than later. It was a major hurdle for the project getting the green light from the feds. And it's a glimmer of hope for those struggling to make the trek into and out of town on the northwest side.

Every day, 238,000 motorists use Highway 290 to get into and out of Houston.

"Actually, 290's what 59 used to be!" one commuter said.

Some days, the traffic is overwhelming.

"It's very frustrating because a lot of people are not paying attention," another commuter said.

But some relief is on its way. The federal highway administration has now approved plans to expand 290 and the blueprints developers have created to try and reduce environmental impacts.

"We've been working for years to get to this point," said Mike Zientex, who works on the U.S. 290 project. "So this is a large milestone."

Work will begin next summer on the Highway 290-Loop 610 interchange to improve ramps and adding lanes along the North Loop between T.C. Jester and Ella. There also will be a ramp to bring drivers inbound on 290 directly to I-10, avoiding 610 altogether. A frontage road will also be constructed along 290 between West 34th and the Loop.

Authorities hope the plan will ease traffic flow, though the work is primarily inbound; officials only have the funding right now to build that half of the interchange.

"You just try to get what money you can and build what you can at the time - do as much as you can with the funding you can get," Zientek said.

Funding must still be secured for the outbound portion of the project.

Construction for inbound lanes is set to begin out here next summer, and its completion is forecast for 2015.

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