APPROVAL TO SUBMIT COMMENTS ON I-45 AND MORE DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT

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1 TAC Agenda Item 09 Mailout 7/12/17 APPROVAL TO SUBMIT COMMENTS ON I-45 AND MORE DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT Background The Texas Department of Transportation, in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), initiated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process for highway improvements in the north Houston area. The North Houston Highway Improvement Project, colloquially referred to as IH 45 North and More, involves evaluation of the I-45 North corridor from near downtown Houston to Beltway 8 North, Beltway 8 North from I-45 North to the Hardy Toll Road, the Hardy Toll Road from I-610 North Loop to Beltway 8 North, I-610 North Loop from I-45 North to the Hardy Toll Road, and portions of I-10 and US 59 near downtown Houston. The primary objective of the NEPA evaluation is to assess the needs of the project area and evaluate possible alternatives, including a no-build alternative. Environment impacts of alternatives that satisfy the need for and purpose of the project are evaluated and result in the identification of a preferred alternative. The Environmental Impact Statement process includes participation and involvement of the public, elected officials, cooperating agencies, and other interested parties. TxDOT has released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), including the identification of the preferred alternative, and has conducted public hearings to present the project. A public comment period is currently open and has been extended through July 27, The Department will consider comments received on the preferred alternative and DEIS documentation as well as conduct additional detailed environmental studies to prepare a Final EIS and draft Record of Decision (environmental approval). More information on the North Houston Highway Improvement Project may be found online at: Current Situation The Department provided presentations regarding the DEIS process and preferred alternative to the TAC and TPC at their May 2017 meetings. H-GAC staff has prepared a letter of support for the project and accompanying comments on the Draft EIS documentation. The letter recognizes the importance of the project to the region and the Policy Council s demonstrated support, including the programming of funds to ensure construction of the initial phases of construction. The comments identify opportunities for continued coordination regarding project impacts as the Final EIS is prepared. TxDOT has already provided draft responses to some of these comments, which are also included for review as well. This letter of support and accompanying comments were presented to TPC at its June 23, 2017 meeting. TPC requested inclusion of additional comments and approved the letter of support. Action Requested Approval for MPO Director to submit prepared comments to TxDOT.

2 HOUSTON-GALVESTON AREA COUNCIL July 19, 2017 Pat Henry, P.E. Director of Project Development Texas Department of Transportation Houston District P.O. Box 1386 Houston, Texas RE: North Houston Highway Improvement Project (CSJ No ) Dear Mr. Henry: The North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP) is a transformative project intended to enhance the region s mobility, economy and quality of life. The Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) is happy to support TxDOT s efforts in this endeavor. The Transportation Policy Council (TPC), likewise, has signaled its support for this project through their actions last February to contribute funding to the NHHIP s initial segment along IH-69/US 59 south of Downtown and Midtown. Although this is a highway project, the NHHIP will have significant impacts on regional transit and bicycle/pedestrian connectivity as well. H-GAC will continue to support collaboration between TxDOT and the City of Houston, METRO and other organizations to ensure that this project provides mobility benefits for all modes and users as its design progresses. H-GAC also expects to explore this project s potential for future high-capacity transit (HCT) through its recently-created High Capacity Transit Task Force. Our staff has reviewed the updated schematics and DEIS and has generated a list of remarks for your agency s consideration. These comments have been shared with, and reviewed by, the Technical Advisory Committee and the Transportation Policy Council. As a participating agency, we look forward to continuing to work with TxDOT as this project progresses. Sincerely, Alan C. Clark Transportation Manager and MPO Director Mailing Address Physical Address PO Box Timmons Lane, Suite 120 Houston, Texas Houston, Texas Phone Phone

3 HOUSTON-GALVESTON AREA COUNCIL ACC/tbg Attachments cc (via ): Hon. Matt Sebesta, Chairman, Transportation Policy Council Carrin Patman, Chairman, Metropolitan Transit Authority Board of Directors Quincy Allen, TxDOT Bill Rudnick, TxDOT Andy Mao, TxDOT Carlos Swonke, TxDOT Mailing Address Physical Address PO Box Timmons Lane, Suite 120 Houston, Texas Houston, Texas Phone Phone

4 H-GAC Comments to TxDOT North Houston Highway Improvement Project (CSJ No ) July 2017 H-GAC appreciates the efforts TxDOT staff has taken to refine the design of this project and acknowledges that these refinements address at least some of the remarks conveyed to TxDOT in May The following remarks are in response to the revised schematics and DEIS released in April The design sequesters motorists on IH-45 for a significant distance as they travel around downtown. For example, traveling northbound on IH-45 from the Gulf Freeway, there appears to be a distance of about 3.25 miles between the St. Joseph Parkway/Pease Street exit into downtown and the following exit, to IH-10 westbound. Has TxDOT given thought as to how to assist or re-route motorists along this stretch of IH-45 during emergencies (e.g. accidents, jackknifed trailers, etc.)? For example, can emergency access gates, like those placed along HOV lanes, be provided between the IH-45 and IH-69/US 59 mainlanes in the trench east of downtown? 2. There is not a direct connector between IH-45 northbound and IH-10 eastbound; it appears that motorists making this connection are expected to first exit onto IH-69/US-59 northbound and then exit onto IH-10 eastbound (and, due to the current ramp reconfiguration project, northbound motorists will need to be aware of this back at Elgin/Lockwood). Is it physically and geometrically possible to address both this concern as well as the one raised in the first point by creating a direct connector between IH-45 northbound and IH-10 eastbound? 3. When compared to the existing configuration, the revised schematic appears to reduce some of the direct access points for motorists on IH-45 to enter downtown (e.g. the elimination of the Pierce Elevated means that northbound motorists from the Gulf Freeway will no longer be able to access the northern and western sides of downtown via the Memorial Drive exit). This places a premium on the importance of clear and definitive signage to effectively inform approaching motorists as to how and where to access downtown. 4. There is some general language on page 7-2 of the DEIS document regarding bicycle and pedestrian pathways, but the revised schematics do not appear to address bicycle and pedestrian connectivity in detail. As the design progresses, H-GAC strongly encourages TxDOT to continue to work with the City of Houston, management districts and other stakeholders to ensure that bicycle and pedestrian connectivity across the reconstructed freeway is preserved and even, where possible, enhanced. For example, as Holman has been identified by the City of Houston as a bike route on either side of the IH-69/US 59 trench, an elevated bicycle and pedestrian bridge to provide connectivity should be considered, if physically feasible. 5. As this project will have at least some effect on METRO s transit operations, H-GAC also strongly encourages TxDOT staff to work closely with METRO staff to minimize disruptions to

5 transit operations, both during and after construction, and to collaborate on opportunities to accommodate the possibility of future high-capacity transit within the corridor, especially along Segments 1 and The closure of Runnels makes some of the intersection improvements and grade separations as identified in the GCRD West Belt Study and H-GAC s East End Mobility Study, especially as they relate to Navigation Boulevard, even more critical. TxDOT is encouraged to cooperate with the City of Houston, the Gulf Coast Rail District, and the Greater East End Management District to ensure that these improvements are accommodated as the new design is put in place. 7. The DEIS states on page ES-20 that [c]hanges in freeway access on I-45, I-10 and US 59/I- 69 will likely affect existing traffic patterns in neighborhoods. These effects will require further analysis, especially as they relate to areas such downtown, Midtown, Greater Third Ward, the East End and the Near Northside. H-GAC encourages TxDOT staff to continue to work with the City of Houston as well as management districts, Super Neighborhoods, and other organizations to address issues such as motorist wayfinding and traffic control on local streets surrounding and connecting to the project. 8. H-GAC is appreciative of TxDOT s efforts to reduce the impact of the freeways on the surrounding community, reconnect neighborhoods, create opportunities for economic development and improve quality of life by creating freeway deck parks in Midtown, east downtown and north of downtown, and will support efforts in advancing these projects. 9. The DEIS indicates that this project is likely to have disproportionately high and adverse impacts on Minority and Low-Income communities and historic neighborhoods. H-GAC has expertise in addressing such environmental justice concerns, and is prepared to support TxDOT s evaluation of these potential direct, indirect and cumulative impacts. 10. As a result of this project, several freeway segments which are currently at or above grade will be reconstructed below grade. This places extreme importance on the need for adequate rainwater pumping, drainage control and runoff management infrastructure and capacity to ensure that these segments do not flood during extreme weather events. 11. As it is a dynamic activity center, downtown Houston has been and continues to be the location for significant new investment by both the public and private sector. TxDOT is encouraged to coordinate with both public and private interests to minimize and mitigate the effects of this project on other construction and development activities. 12. The new freeway configuration will cross multiple active freight railroad lines, including those owned by Union Pacific and BNSF. H-GAC encourages TxDOT to maintain close cooperation with the freight railroads to ensure that freight operations are not adversely impacted during construction and, where possible, even improve the safety and capacity of these railroads.

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