I-10 expansion project draws pushback from NW Houston residents, who propose alternative plans

KTRK logo
Thursday, March 28, 2024
Tap for ABC13 Houston 24/7 Live Stream
Watch Eyewitness News and ABC13 originals around the clock

The Texas Department of Transportation has tweaked its plans for an I-10 elevation project that officials said will address flooding issues that have left the highway impassable near the Heights 10 times since 1992.

Although the plan was adjusted, residents feel there are still negative effects to TxDOT's current plan.

The overview

TxDOT initially brought the proposed project to residents and stakeholders in 2022 to gather feedback and has since been working to address concerns. Updates were presented at a Jan. 17 open house and in a virtual public meeting posted on Jan. 16.

On Wednesday, residents and neighbors put together a proposal for an alternative to TxDOT's widening and raising of I-10.

At Wednesday's 6 p.m. meeting, advocates said they hope to educate the community about the negative effects of TxDOT's current plan, showcase the alternative, and encourage the community to engage before the comment period deadline of April 1.

Officials are proposing to raise I-10 main lanes and high occupancy vehicle lanes between Heights Boulevard and I-45 near Downtown Houston, according to Jeff Casbeer, a member of the project team with LJA Engineering.

The details

The project tackles a stretch of I-10, roughly 1.8 miles in length. It does not include adding vehicle lanes.

TxDOT officials are proposing to raise the I-10 main lanes and HOV lanes above the White Oak Bayou flood plain. HOV lanes are already elevated in the project area, but the main lanes are largely at ground level.

HOV lanes would also be widened from 12 feet to 14 feet wide, and a shared-use path would be built under eastbound I-10 main lanes that connect to trails along White Oak Bayou and on the south side of I-10.

The context

Federal requirements call for interstates to remain passable during 50-year storm events, and TxDOT's own standards require them to remain passable during 100-year storms, standards Casbeer said the targeted stretch of I-10 does not meet.

The project would raise I-10 main lanes above the 100-year flood elevation in the targeted area, which most recently was flooded during Tropical Storm Imelda in 2019, as well as during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.

The I-10 main lanes in the targeted area were last reconstructed between 1995 and 2000 with roads that have a 30-year lifespan. Beyond flooding, Casbeer said the segment of I-10 would need to be replaced within the next two to seven years.

The background

Negative feedback following TxDOT's 2022 public meeting centered around noise, the project's potential to worsen flooding elsewhere, and the project's effects on nearby natural resources, such as green space and park-like land near White Oak Bayou.

The latest

Since January's meeting, TxDOT has adjusted its plans in the following ways:

  • Reducing the proposed height of HOV lanes over Taylor Street and Houston Avenue so that it would be around 10 feet higher than the current structure
  • Taking a 26-acre detention pond that was once proposed to go in a forested area north of I-10 between Taylor Street and Houston Avenue and relocating it to be beneath the elevated main lanes
  • Adding vegetation and tree plantings along White Oak Bayou
  • Adding a shared-use path connection on the south side of I-10 to allow access to Sabine and Maude streets
  • Increasing the height of a concrete barrier along the outside of elevated main lanes and HOV bridges from 3 feet to 6 feet in an effort to reduce noise levels
  • Moving the I-10 eastbound main lanes to provide space for the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County to place columns and foundations for its planned Inner Katy Corridor, a separate project

Residents' current concerns

Despite TxDOT's adjustments in January, residents feel the plan is "disastrous."

"This will result in 10 plus years of construction, 80 plus homes and businesses destroyed, 12.5 Acres seized for expansion, the destruction of the White Oak Bayou landscape, and increased noise and air pollution. The total cost of this disastrous plan remains unknown," advocates with No Higher No Wider I-10 said.

Residents are proposing TxDOT add greenspace and commerce on top of I-10 from Patterson to Memorial Park, saying this would fit within the existing footprint of the project, reconnect neighborhoods across I-10, and create an economic boon for the city.

"Capped freeways or boulevard projects in other cities have resulted in millions of dollars of payout, like with Dallas' Klyde Warren Park or Aubrey Davis Park in Washington. We don't need to suffer from another ill-fated widening, we can invest in both our highways and our city for progress," advocates said.

See the detailed alternative plan:

Digging in

The project is estimated to cost $347 million, the same price tag as when it was first presented in 2022. TxDOT officials said they anticipated receiving federal and state funds.

As part of the federal process, TxDOT has completed an environmental analysis that involved looking at how the project would affect biological resources, water resources, hazardous materials, historical and arch resources, and noise, among other elements. No significant impacts are expected in any of those areas, based on studies done through the lens of the National Environmental Policy Act, Casbeer said.

A noise analysis found the project would not noticeably change noise levels in 88% of the project area. For areas that will see greater noise, the analysis found barriers would not achieve the sound reduction in federal guidelines to justify the use of noise barriers, so noise barriers are not being proposed in those areas. TxDOT is considering the use of tined pavement to reduce noise.

What else

The construction of the detention pond will result in 18 acres of impervious pavement being removed and replaced with permeable materials, Casbeer said. TxDOT will need to acquire four parcels of right of way totaling 1.2 acres, including three from the Harris County Flood Control District and one parcel from the city of Houston. No businesses or residences will be displaced by the project.

What's next

The project has been approved in the Texas Transportation Commission's 10-year plan.

After Wednesday night's meeting, officials will review the suggestions and could potentially make more design changes.

The next steps include an environmental decision, detailed design, and right-of-way acquisition. Construction could begin in 2025 and take about four years.

ABC13 partners at Community Impact Newspapers and Shawn Arrajj contributed to this article.