There’s a lot riding on Texas DOT’s $7 billion plan for downtown Houston freeways.
TxDOT has been working for more than a decade on a plan for the three highways that roughly form a circle around the city — I-45, I-10, and U.S. 59. Last April, the agency revealed a draft version of the plan, and another revision is expected to come out as soon as six months from now.
Advocates for a walkable Houston see a lot of promise in TxDOT’s willingness to rethink the city’s freeways, but the plan might still make traffic worse by adding lanes.
On the bright side, TxDOT is proposing to tear down the Pierce Elevated Freeway, which could open up 20 to 50 blocks of downtown for walkable development. The plan also calls for aligning I-45 with U.S. 59 to the east of the city, burying the roads in a trench capped with a park.
“The impacts on walkability and urbanism are real and are a big deal,” said Jay Crossley, former director of the smart growth advocacy group Houston Tomorrow. “If they could only do those parts of the plan it would be an amazing plan.”
But while TxDOT is starting to consider how its highway projects affect urban neighborhoods, said Crossley, it hasn’t quite embraced the “paradigm shift” away from highway widening that Mayor Sylvester Turner has called for.
It’s still an open question whether TxDOT’s plan will result in a net increase in highway capacity, pumping more traffic into downtown.