The Houston-Galveston Area Council Transportation Policy Council on Friday voted unanimous approval of the 2011-2014 Transportation Improvement Plan.
Alan C. Clark, manager of the transportation and air quality programs for the H-GAC, reviewed the process that led to development of the TIP, noting that several projects that had been discussed as part of the plan have been removed because of their state of readiness or the availability of funding. Listen: RealPlayer MP3
State Highway 146 between Seabrook and Kemah was one of the projects.
Coletta Castleschouldt, president of the Bay Area Transportation Partnership, and Seabrook Mayor Gary Renola addressed the council on issues related to plans for the segment of the highway extending from south of Red Bluff to Highway 96, stating that there is a critical need for the improvements, but complaining that the plans are flawed. Listen: RealPlayer MP3
"The current plans do not address the specific needs nor provide effective solutions for the region," Castleschouldt said. "This existing design negatively impacts developing commercial land along State Highway 146, including 34 businesses, thereby diminishing sales tax revenue to a city that is still recovering from Hurricane Ike."
Castleschouldt said the hike and bike trails that are included in the project should be removed from the plans.
"Removal of these trails would reduce the right-of-way and preserve the businesses that are so important to the region," she said. "State Highway 146 is a critical corridor shared by our region's premier economic driver, the Port of Houston."
Castleschouldt and Renola agreed that State Highway 146 is an important hurricane evacuation route.
"This section of road is critical that we figure out a way to fund it," Renola said. "I expect that it is going to take some creative solutions."
"I'm lost as to why we would remove a hurricane evacuation route as described, and it may not be a hurricane evacuation route, out of the TIP?" asked Chair James Patterson,
"This is much more than an evacuation route," said Harris County Public Infrastructure Department Director Art Storey. "This is a critical mobility problem...I think we need this road in spite of the inability to accommodate a bike-way in the middle of the road."
Patterson suggested that the project could be included as a contingent project if conditions change.
"Could we not leave that in Appendix D and it still would be considered to be in the TIP so that if Homeland Security Funds or Congressman Olson decided that there was money available, whatever the innovative financing might be, it would be in Appendix D and therefore in the TIP?" Patterson asked Clark.
"Projects that are in what we would call the short-range portion of our plan are programmed through at least 2017 would be available to move into the TIP based simply upon a public meeting and your approval," Clark answered, describing the TIP as a living document. "Later projects in the plan could also be moved into the TIP (but) require a little bit more elaboration, because there could be some supplemental air quality analysis."
"So what you're saying is, you haven't removed it off the books?" Patterson asked. "You've slid it into a later date and it can be slid forward should something occur."
"That's correct," Clark agreed.
The H-GAC TPC approved amendments to the 2008-2011 TIP to make adjustments for cost under runs and to account for change in eligibility of some projects. Listen: RealPlayer MP3
"We have been challenged to find additional ready-to-go projects within the currently approved TIP to utilize those funds," Clark said.
Clark said that the funding for a project on FM 529 may be in question and therefore could be applied instead to the FM 1314 project.
"We would ask for your concurrence to provide that as an additional contingency project under the Surface Transportation Program, so that if we get a definite 'no' on 529 we can move that money into a project that will stay in the region," Clark said.
"As difficult as it is to deal with, it's all good news," Clark said. "We are letting more projects in Fiscal Year 2010 than we expected to let; and we are going to have more money available for new projects in 2011 than we expected to have available."
All other items on the TPC agenda were approved. All votes were unanimous.