TxDOT Presents Toll Lanes Down the Middle of 288

Note: A TxDOT spokesperson has confirmed that the total cost of the project is $1.3 billion. Story updated below.

This map shows where commuters would get in and out of the toll lanes that TxDOT says it will build in the grassy median of Texas 288 — part of a project it’s proposing to help deal with Med Center congestion and development southwest of town by widening 26 miles of the highway between U.S. 59 and County Road 60. Several new overpasses at intersections and upgraded connections to the Loop and Beltway 8 are also included in the project, which TxDOT says will cost about $1.38 million $1.3 billion. The full extent of the project will be rolled out tonight at a public hearing in Houston and again on Thursday in Pearland.

Map: TxDOT

55 Comment

  • Something seems amiss here… “the entire project is projected to cost $1.38M”. Didn’t think you could even build one bridge for that price. Did the decimal point get misplaced on this one?

  • This concept has been in long term planning for years. Even the original design had a second set of lanes for commuters.

    The good thing is that little to no right-of-way will need to be acquired.

  • That’s 1.38B. 26 miles of highway for less than the average house price in River Oaks, now that would be news.

  • Wow… only $1.38 million… I’d invest in that toll road!! I’m guessing it’s supposed to be billion? or $138 million?

  • Is that $1.38 million number correct? I’m used to seeing numbers at least 10 times that for any major infrastructure work.

  • TxDOT says will cost about $1.38 million.
    Ummm, maybe that should be billion?

  • No way 26 miles costs only $1.38 million.
    May $138,000,000.00

  • A billion here, a billion there, soon we’ll be talking real money.

  • This is another instance of gov’t spending millions on tree plantings in a freeway right-of-way that get bulldozed ten years later (thinking of Katy Freeway). The trees in the median of 288 between 59 and MacGregor are just maturing. What a waste!

  • Is this actually necessary?

  • I’m glad it doesn’t sound like they’re not taking much more right of way, but if they really want to get people in to and out of the med center, why don’t they just extend the rail out and create park and rides? There are already four rail stops in the med center.

  • Extending the rail out would be great. Commuter lines out to SugarLand and pearland? Fantastic! An eventual extension out to Galveston? Wonderful! Additional lines coming in from The Woodlands, Katy, maybe Tomball? Brilliant!

    Except where exactly is the money going to come from? Houston just voted (knowingly or not) to kill future rail funding, so…

  • The tress on 288 are the only thing that makes the drive bearable.

    Yeah let’s just mow them all down, along with all the money it took to plan and plant them.

  • When they initially built 288, it was not a tollway. Why should the new lanes be? If we are now to buy into the notion of a fee based method of funding government, why should I pay so much in taxes, when I use litte to no government services? This tollway is “highway” robbery in its literal sense.

  • Densify,

    You’re forgetting that this is Houston. It’s only acceptable to spend billions on highways.

    It is unacceptable here to invest in any other mode of transport.

  • @Densify, which do you mean? Extend the light rail all to Pearland and be stuck with light rail speeds for miles all the way to Pearland? Or have a faster commuter rail which will then require a transfer to light rail once it meets up with the light rail tracks? I don’t see how either would improve travel times over toll lanes or even or the current commute.

    I would also venture a guess that either extending the light rail that far or constructing a new commuter rail (I don’t think the line on FM 521 is just there for the taking) would cost on the order of the same cost as the toll road though probably a little less. I also think it would have far fewer users than the toll roads. Last, I know that the rail improvement would not cover its own costs whereas the toll road has a very high probability of paying for itself in tolls within 10 years.

  • Why don’t they just start with feeder roads along 288? Long overdue. That’s the big problem. If there’s an accident on 288 you are just stuck.

  • It seems this states answer to all city congestion is to build toll roads. I think its a crock of bull excrement.

    The “planners” at TXDOT need to remember who pays their salary – its the tax payers not the toll roads.

  • ALL new highways should be toll roads. Every last one of them. If you use it, you pay for it. If you don’t use it, no harm to you. You don’t HAVE to drive it. YOU decide by your actions if you wish to pay more. Nothing makes more sense economic equality-wise than that.

  • @18 – A huge reason for the toll fetish is the legislative grand mal seizure that occurs when anybody suggests doing anything to taxes other than cutting them – and since there is no magic money fairy, the cash has to come from somewhere. Our gasoline tax has been .20/gal since 1991 – it would have to be .33/gal now just to keep up with inflation. Of course, one could maintain that highway tolls are a tax, in the sense that the gummint is taking money from you.

  • If you don’t want all the new roads to be toll roads, then you need some other source of revenue. A higher gas tax would work, but despite the state gas tax going down every year (thanks to inflation), it seems no Texans are willing to accept that. For that reason, making all the new freeway development toll roads is the only option.

  • Won’t help, most of those commuters can afford the freight of a toll road, and it will probably be more congested than the main lanes. Looking at you Sam Houston Tollway, which was subsidized by tax payers starting in 1958,

  • All of the solutions to congestion center on adding lanes to existing roads. This is not sustainable over the long term, and ends up costing taxpayers more over time. Eventually, we will reach critical mass with congestion, when there is no more right-of-way available for purchase or taking for additional lanes, and all existing roads will be insufficient for peak times. Then, we WILL have to begin building trains/subways/monorails (or similar), by demolishing roadways or by acquiring new rights-of-way, which will be at least 10x as expensive later.

    A great example is the Katy Freeway, which added copious lanes, and is already congested during peak times only a few years later. They demoed a railroad right-of-way for that project, and will eventually have to go back and install a new permanent transit line of some sort, costing 10x what it would have using the former track.

  • @eiioi: Logic will show you that if you build more roads and open more lanes (at increased capacity) this immediately results into more cars driving in. So think of this for a moment, your travel times will only increase into Houston during peak hours due to the more cars on the road. It is the simple rule of offer versus demand. But if you don’t believe this argument, then ask people from Katy how much the expansion of the Katy freeway has reduced their travel time during peak hours. Most of them will tell you travel time has not improved.

    So the answer is not really expanding roads, and putting more toll roads to finance this project. Houston is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country, and as such, we have to prepare ourselves, not for today’s demand in transportation, but on tomorrow’s. Because the fact of the matter is, the city will only become more and more congested as population density increases.

    I have lived in other cities in the country where population densities are high, and I will tell you that those cities will simply collapse without some form of alternative transportation (i.e. commuter rail). There are only so many highways you can build before you run out of space. Also think of the environmental impact more cars would have in our already poor air quality.

    I encourage you to read the Regional Commuter Rail Connectivity Study prepared for the Houston-Galveston Area Council in September of 2008, in which they measured and recommended the positive impact of commuter rail in Houston. Heck, at least read the Executive Summary to realize how positive it could be for Houston to have an alternative to building more highways!

  • @texsota, why not just use toll road money? They’ve already got people who use one tollway paying for different toll roads by making them pay on a toll road that’s already been paid for. Just add this to their burden, they’ll happily pay for it.
    Since the county is good at doing back room deals for things like this, that’s all they’d have to do, just do another back room deal to funnel money from the HCTRA to METRO…

  • the issue with toll roads is that the value of the resources are not properly allocated and taxpayers get a big shaft in the rear end 20yrs down the road. of course the same could be said for metro and light rail but at least one of these is essential to the livelihoods of many houstonians while the other isn’t.

    perhaps we should be asking ourselves how folks can afford to drive on toll roads, but not pay more in gas taxes to support the cities roads.

    Why don’t I ASK residents of Katy about travel times, many of whom are new residents to Katy? The ones that aren’t new can hardly be trusted to accurately remember the exact length of their commute 10+ years ago.

    Why don’t we go to the data instead? According to data from the TTI, a morning rush hour commute from west of Highway 6 to downtown would have taken 6 minutes longer before reconstruction, or 22% longer. An afternoon commute on the same stetch of road used to take 11 minutes longer or 38% longer. Getting 17 minutes of your day back, every single work day…that sounds pretty good to me. And that’s for the main lanes, not the HOT lanes.

    More important, in case you can’t remember since you weren’t in Houston then, is now I-10 west of 610 is congested for maybe 3 hours total. Back before the Katy Freeway was redone, the road was generally congested more like 8 or 9 hours per day.

    And all this improvement in mobility even with the tremendous growth in residents and workers west of Gessner since 2003!

    Please stop trying to kid us all.

  • @toasty
    “Since the county is good at doing back room deals for things like this, that’s all they’d have to do, just do another back room deal to funnel money from the HCTRA to METRO…”

    Translation: if the people vote not to spend money on rail, let’s use corruption to make the people do what we want them to do anyway.

  • @joel,
    What do you mean when you say taxpayers get a shaft in the rear end Re toll roads 20 years from now?

  • It’s all about the funding. TxDOT, despite the name, is primarily funding highways and roads. They haven’t funded any rail, commuter or light rail, that I know of. The Feds severely limit funding for highway projects in “non-attainment” air quality zones. Essentially, this is any major city including Austin.
    Thus funds for urban transportation is minimal.

    Buiding toll roads is a means of constructing new highways without dipping into the state highway fund (ie. the gas tax). Toll roads are built with money raised by bonds, not from gas taxes. Thus, the gas tax doesn’t need to be raised.

  • For the toll road opponents, imagine Houston without the Sam Houston Toll Road. Imagine the only means of transversing Houston is through the Loop and/ or side streets. It would probably be similiar to driving on Highway 6 or on 1960. Given the size and scope of the Sam Houston toll road, could or would it been ever built as a “free” highway? And how long would have taken?

  • I have a great way to solve med center congestion: move to the med center. Or live close to it and light-rail it over. There are tons of good homes/apts for little money over there — minutes from work. Hell, we have 3bd apts for ~$700.
    If you have those types of options in/near med center, and work in med center, and decide you want to live 10000 miles away, then forgive me if I don’t want to pay to make your road wider and drive faster.

  • @mfastx: Not forgetting. Just hoping for necessary progress. If we don’t start investing more in alternatives to the personal automobile (or properly funding the ones we’ve already voted in favor of), the Houston area will be completely gridlocked in under a decade.

    @eiioi: I hadn’t considered the light rail/commuter rail question. It’s a good one and I don’t know that I have the answer. I believe some form of rail into the med center would have high ridership, based on the ridership of other rail lines from major suburban population centers into dense business districts, like the ones in Dallas. And if a long-distance rail line fails to set fares at market prices or enforce fares, I definitely agree that a toll road would likely recoup its investment faster.

    @anyone that drives: Remember, every person who rides rail is one less person you have to share the road with or fight for parking.

  • Don’t vehicle registration fees enter into this too?

  • Nice development, although I would like to see the ROW used for the med center flyover. With the golf course and the redeveloped bayou park, it’s going to have to be quite a surgical incision. :)

  • Looking for the “like” button for Cody #32.

  • >>jgbiggs:–When they initially built 288, it was not a tollway. Why should the new lanes be? If we are now to buy into the notion of a fee based method of funding government, why should I pay so much in taxes, when I use litte to no government services? This tollway is “highway” robbery in its literal sense.

  • Freeways = socialism

  • @sh-snooty: Do you use water? Does your garbage get picked up? Does your toilet flush into sewers? Do you drive on non-toll roads? Will police or fire respond to your call? If you use any of these things, you use government services.
    Also, Houston has one of the lowest taxation rates for a city its size, aside from property taxes which are high because we don’t have state or city income tax.

  • @SH-snooty,
    If TxDOT gave the 288 toll lanes a different highway number, would that satisfy you? Except to make a political point, it’s not relevant whether the tollway is in the middle of 288, adjacent to 288, offset from 288 by 300 ft. or one mile away. New lanes are new lanes.

    Free doesn’t build new lanes, gas taxes don’t build enough new lanes, but tolls finance the construction of new lanes. The choice is pretty much new free lanes by 2050 or new tolled lanes before 2020, not whether or not the new lanes they are soon preparing to build are tolled.

    “why should I pay so much in taxes, when I use litte to no government services?”

    No, you actually don’t pay that much in taxes to fund transportation. Assuming that you were driving two decades ago, you paid more in taxes in 1991 per gallon of gas (inflation-adjusted) than now, and definitely more as a percentage of a gallon of gas than now (~20% vs. 5-6%).

  • @Densify #33

    Yeah, it really all depends on the specific solution being proposed. I’m not against rail, but I am generally against sacrificing current road capacity or long-planned improvements in capacity for rail, that is, removing needed car lanes or lots of intersections where rail gets priority. That’s why I’m not a big fan of the Uptown line if it won’t be grade-separated. Grade separation is the way to go if we can afford it.

    Regarding TMC, I think you might be right that it’s a great place for high-capacity rail (if we can find a sensible solution). Doctors work long hours and would prefer not to drive drowsy if possible. Same for those in residency. Some visitors would prefer to not have to deal with parking issues. I dunno. Anything could happen.

  • That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Even Romania can “afford” to have an extensive mid and high speed rail network all over the country, and they only have half the GDP of the city of Houston (and 1/6 of the GDP per capita that Houston has)…but Houston “can’t afford” something like that.

    You heard it here first.

  • Paul: I’m curious what social services Houston provides that Romania doesn’t. That could be why there isn’t the money left in the pot for rail. I could recycle the red tags that have been slapped on my buildings and fund a few miles of rail.
    We have the money to do it, but unlike Romania we spend it on other services other than mass transit.

  • We have to use so many extra services because of the way we are spread out (largely because of our city planners and transportation structure). We have to fund what little and often inefficient public transportation we have, plus just plain old maintenance costs for our current road/freeway system, plus our police, firemen, utility/maintenance crews, etc., plus all of their vehicle costs and maintenance for 600 square miles…and that’s just within the Houston city limits. I can go on and on. It should be obvious that the long term answer isn’t more “master-planned” communities 30 to 50 miles outside of town in every direction, more roads and more automobiles. We need people with more foresight than the next quarterly report or fiscal year budget to plan the future of our city.

  • @Paul,
    Less developed and less free countries are notorious for making unwise spending decisions because they beholden to no one on how they spend their money and don’t use the same financial metrics to evaluate projects, if they use any at all. North Korea and Turkmenistan are full of monuments dedicated to the personality cult of their leaders. Russia has many abandoned ghost cities (not just towns) which were abandoned after 1991, when private businesses realized it was uneconmical to run the mine or whatever else was there. China has multiple new, empty cities.

    You might even say the the Great Pyramids of Giza were the wasteful spending of their day.

    Oh, we are also so stupid/lazy/uneducated/unsophisticated/backward-thinking because the ancient Egyptians built these large pyramids and we can’t even build a few lousy pyramids. What’s wrong with us?!?!?!?!?!?!?

  • A toll road is going to be the easiet, tax-friendly way to added capacity to 288. Minimally, it will add two lanes in each direction. Most likely it would be like the Katy freeway with the tolled lanes nominally seperated by the “free” lanes. Highway construction, and infrastructure in general, is very expensive. I believe it’s in the ballpark of $100 million per lane per mile. (It was a few years ago when I studied highway design). The Katy freeway mega expansion was about $13 billion! The toll road construction will be financed with bonds, not by dipping into the gas tax. Raising funds without raising taxes is the key here.

    In the end, most will win. Those who cannot tolerate congestion and/or running late have the option of paying a few dollars to use the toll road. And for the other half, they would be enjoying a less congested 288, without paying an extra dime.

    Unfortunately, rail advocates are on the losing end of highway expansion. Just look at the new Katy Freeway and the under-construction 290 Toll Road. A more efficient highway, makes mass transit less appealing.

  • Regarding the trees in the median on 288 inside the loop. This wide swath of land inbetween the main lanes is atypical of every freeway in Houston. This wide right-of-way was aquired with the intention of an express freeway running in the median. The wide right-of-way was intended to plant trees and beautify Houston. Yes, I know we need that, but that’s a different post.

  • Why is everyone that is transit-minded so focused on rail down 288? Is something wrong with doing express bus service like Downtown has? It’s awfully successful, and is tailor-made for managed toll lanes.

  • Eiioi,

    It’s true that “less developed” countries don’t operate under the same metrics we do. I’m not suggesting otherwise. I’m just tired of hearing about how we “can’t afford” a viable rail/subway system here in Houston when even “less developed” countries who make “unwise spending decisions” have it all over the place. Nothing “outweighs” the transportation issue here, and for many legitimate reasons. It’s at the root of a lot of our biggest problems.

    I’d be willing to bet that deep down, we all know what the holdup is.


    if what you’re saying about the cost of the I-10 expansion is true, that’s over $500 million per mile. It just doesn’t sound accurate. There are mid and high speed trains around the world (and some in this country) that run for much less than even $100 million per mile.

    Anyways, the Katy Freeway is “better” than it was before, but it still gets seriously backed up between downtown and Katy every day. I just don’t see it as the “smashing success” you’re making it out to be. If you’re going to say “a more efficient highway makes mass transit less appealing”…would you flip the script and say that “a more efficient source of alternative transportation makes roads and automobiles less appealing?” Because it sure as hell does in Europe and the Northeastern U.S.

    Local Planner, I can’t speak for anyone else, but to your comment, I would say that rail would be much more efficient than a subway on the 288 corridor…largely because their is so much current right of way that (for now) eliminates the need to dig underground for so many miles. We could put so many trains down 288 right now, that if we built them correctly and built around them with efficiency as the top priority…we could probably move all of Houston’s newcomers down that corridor for the next 500+ years, even with the kind of growth we are currently experiencing. I don’t think anyone is saying that, especially right now, more automobile lanes wouldn’t “help” the 288 corridor…but just meet me at I-10 and Kirkwood during the next rush hour for a better explanation of reasoning here.

  • Silly planner, transit with rubber tires is for the Great Unwashed. Pearland doesn’t need to be associating itself with that element. Don’t you know that? How could you not know that?

    Nah seriously, I doubt that anybody seriously suggesting this has a firm grasp of public finance. Or of economic opportunity costs. Or of the operating parameters of different types of transit. In fact, they probably know so little and are so intellectually lazy and risk-averse that they themselves are exemplary of why rail bias exists. If transit isn’t in this sort of person’s face every single day, they won’t bother to look up routes and timetables on a website. And they surely won’t bother to take a chance one day on a P&R bus that’s untethered to a fixed route.

    What, don’t believe me? Go read the public comments on one of the Chron.com forums. That’s the citizenry of Houston talking. They’re the electorate. They’re the customer base for transit. And they’re woefully, willfully ignorant.

  • so many in this city want rail but a good amount doesn’t…they just want more fuckin cars and cars and cars and cars on the road….Is there a lot of congestion on the roads???? well lets just build more roads!!!How about making better public transportation? Even lame ass Dallas who’s waaaay less dense than Houston is rail to the suburbs…I mean freakin Dallas has a better rail system…Man I fuckin hate this city soemtimes….and no wonder so many people do to…

  • TheNiche obviously lacks “a firm grasp” of the overall costs of owning/operating automobiles…unless paying the costs of car payments, gas, insurance, tolls, parking, repairs/maintenance, the 270 “major” accidents (and 2 to 3 times as many “minor” ones EVERY DAY in the Houston area alone), millions of injuries and 30,000 to 40,000 U.S. deaths every year (including 500 or 600 in the Houston area alone), the traffic citations that often have our municipal court systems backed up for months, time/money wasted sitting in traffic or at often unnecessary and/or poorly timed traffic signals, the environmental and health costs, etc, etc, etc. “don’t count.”

    The average Houstonian spends about $10,000 every year directly on their automobile use…and the country spends over $2 trillion every year. You’re just not very bright if you “don’t think we can afford” more efficient alternatives…especially when (even poor) countries all over the world can, and also considering the way we are and always have been growing here in Houston.

    But “nah, seriously” bro…

    “Woefully ignorant” indeed.

    Good Lord.

  • @Paul, In 2009 there were 207 traffic fatalities in Houston according to the numbers I found. Where do you get 500-600? Where do you get $10,000 per year as the cost of a car.

    How much of that vaunted rail system in Romania was built under communist rule, when no on ehad a choice, and economics played no part in decisions?

  • There was an interesting article in the Sunday Viewpoints section of the Chronicle by the owner of the former Texas Limited train to Galveston about how certain power players in Houston in the 1990’s worked to kill commuter rail then.
    I think it was extremely shortsighted of Metro to allow the paving over of their rail right of ways along Westpark and the Katy Freeway 10 years ago. But it’s all about politics, and until the mindset in Houston/Harris County changes, we will continue to see miles and miles of new pavement and not an inch of rail.

  • I think this is a terrible idea. Look at the Beltway 8 . Half the time its clogged with back ups. We need to stop building freeways/toll ways in Houston. And make commuter rail connect every part of the city and it;s suburbs. If trains took Pearland residents from the 288 Hwy into the city/ Medical Center/Downtown Galleria areas, then that freeway would have an option for people to get out of their cars. Toll roads are only for politicians trying to get people to fund their bad ideas on transportation issues. Houston needs commuter trains every 15 minutes on every major freeway in the metro. And then we will see how much since it makes to have trains connect people to their destinations. Rather than another billion dollar waste of money that will have construction of it clogging the route while it’s being built, and then go to another freeway/toll system roadway that becomes a parking lot during peak hours. Its ridiculous not to get people out of their cars. In New York, Chicago, and L.A. being the largest cities in the country, and them having the best transit for their citizens, communities, and surrounding region, then there is Houston , the 4th largest city, with one train that has no intersecting line from another area of town. And Houston offers no transit system of value compared to its competitors. And has the worst freeway traffic in the nation. And the TXDOT wants another billion dollar fumble of taxpayers money. The future of cities isnt in freeway systems. It’s in high speed commuter rail safely getting people away from road rage, and the death trap of riding in vehicle in a metro of 6 million people and everybody going to the same place.