By Rich Heiland
Free Press Publications, LLC
For Walker County News Today
Walker County News Today
CONFUSED ABOUT ALL that is going on with I-45 through Huntsville? Join the club. So are we. It’s a big project, the design drawings make sense only to engineers and it’s hard to keep up with what is open and what is closed.
We published an overview on the construction I-45 a few days ago. In this installment we will look at the first leg of the project from the south – the overpass and accesses at Park Road 40.
Keep in mind that Walker County is a piece in a larger puzzle. Anyone who has driven south over the past three decades knows that widening of I-45 out of Houston up through Conroe has been never-ending; it is widened, becomes obsolete, widened again.
Now that widening, to three-lanes north and three lanes south, has moved into our county. For almost three years drivers have moved through the first phase in the New Waverly area and there remains widening to be done south of there.
So, the six-lane highway is coming up from New Waverly. Its first brush with Huntsville is at Park Road 40. Work already has begun on the project. The main components are:
- Removal of the I-45 overpass crossing the Park Road. I-45 still will be elevated but the current overpass will be taken down and reconstructed in phases to allow for six lanes. This work will begin in the Fall.
- Improved entrance and exit ramps.
The exit ramp to the Park Road from northbound I-45 will be expanded in length and be less acute. It still will form a “T intersection with the Park Road. Also, the entrance from the Park Road to north-bound I-45 will be longer, allowing for more merge time.
For southbound traffic on I-45 the exit to the access road, and on to the Park Road, will be longer and more gradual and will improve site lines for traffic on the access road that has to yield to those exiting I-45. While it won’t be a “T” intersection some of the “look back” strain for southbound access road drivers should be lessened.
The exit ramp to the Park Road from northbound I-45 will be expanded in length and be less acute. It still will form a “T” stop intersection with the Park Road. The entrance from the Park Road to north-bound I-45 will be longer, allowing for more merge time.
For southbound traffic on I-45 the exit to the access road, and on to the Park Road, will be longer and more gradual and will form a “T” stop intersection with the access road. That will eliminate the dangerous “look back” drivers on southbound access road have to try to make.
For those leaving the Park Road to go onto I-45 south there will be a more gradual and longer entrance starting near the Park Road. The short, quick entrance of the past will be done.
Work is underway on the widening and exit/entrances and will be completed by 2021.
- Access road improvements – at some point the access road, two-way on the west side of 45, will be improved as well.
So, what will all this mean? From a traffic management standpoint, it means better flow on 45 because of six lanes versus four. It also will mean improved safety.
Huntsville State Park, because of its proximity to Greater Houston, has the most visits of any state park in Texas. At certain times of year, the Park Road is heavily traveled and the entrances and exits off 45 get high use.
The current exit off southbound 45 to the Park Road is unsafe by modern standards. It is short, and traffic comes off fast. Access road traffic must yield. For southbound drivers, as noted above, it is difficult to get a clear look back up the 45 exit ramp to see what is coming. The improvements will create better flow and visibility.
During construction there will be impacts on drivers. Many local drivers – particularly from Elkins Lake on the west and the Goree Unit area on the east, have started using the state Park Road as a go-around since the Goree Bridge was taken down.
During construction, which will pick up in coming weeks, drivers may find diversions, closures and slow-downs around state Park Road. Delmy Reyes, PE, TXDOT project manager for the 45 project, said as much work as possible will be done at night to avoid closures and delays during the day. In fact, contractors have an incentive to get work done at night.
“If they do not get it done at night and have to close lanes during the day, they have to pay a ‘lane rental fee if it’s closed during the day,’” Reyes said. So, it is in the contractor’s best interest to get the work done at night.
While not all delays/closures are predictable, planned closures will be sent out in advance to local media such as WCNT, The Item and KSAM.
To keep abreast you can go to drivetexas.org. When you go to that page you will get a pop-up that allows you to click “my location.” That will take you to a screen for our area that allows you to monitor everything from lane closures, to congestion to accidents.
Also, Bobby Colwell, public information officer for the Bryan District, has a Twitter account where he tries to post more up-to-the-minute information. If you are on Twitter you can follow him by going to @TxDotBryan.
One warning for those who regularly drive the access north or south between Veterans Memorial Boulevard and the Park Road:
Southbound 45 has been funneled to one lane south between the old Goree Bridge area and the state Park Road. Many people have bailed out of the congestion onto the access road, not realizing it is two-way. There have been near accidents. Texas State Troopers, Walker County deputies and Huntsville police have started patrolling those bail-outs, which are illegal. For locals on the access road, keep a sharp eye for these drivers darting into your lane on the access road.
Next: Part 3: The Goree area – a new bridge!