By Rich Heiland
Free Press Publications, LLC
For Walker County News Today
WHEN THE LAST bit of concrete is laid on the I-45 improvements from south of Park Road 40 to the new interchange of I-45 and Highway 19, it won’t be the end. Far from it. Two more major sections of widening, redoing ramps and bridges will begin in late 2021 or early 2022.
If you are interested in getting your own personal look at plans that will take the widening from Highway 19 to about a half-mile south of FM 1696, then mark Aug. 9 on your calendar. The Texas Department of Transportation will hold an open house and public hearing on what it calls “2A” and “2B.” The open house, which will feature plans and TXDOT staff to explain them, begins at 4 :30 p.m. in the main hall at the Walker County Storm Shelter on Highway 75 north across from the City Service Center. The public hearing will begin at 6 p.m.
The next two phases will be massive and cover more highway than the phase currently under construction. While the current work has been able to avoid the acquisition, by purchase or eminent domain, of private land, the phase from 19 to Highway 30 won’t. TXDOT project plans show four commercial properties that could be impacted. (More on that later this week).
The 2A portion of the work will involve widening and improvements from Highway 19 to roughly a mile north of Highway 30. Two bridges will be removed and redone – FM 1374 (Possum Walk/Montgomery Road) and Smither Road.
The Montgomery Road bridge will be rebuilt to include U-turn lanes on each side, like the current Highway 30 bridge. The new bridge will be widened and more lanes added. In addition, entrance and exit ramps to Montgomery Road will be widened, lengthened and improved though they will remain in roughly the same places.
The Smither Road bridge, which feeds into Avenue S on the east and the Ravenwood Village shopping complex entrance on the west, will be widened. Both the FM 1374 and Smither Bridges will have sidewalks and more lanes.
According to TXDOT efforts will be made to keep some access to the major shopping area open but some diversions and reroutes will be likely.
Moving north, the Highway 30 bridge will not be taken down. However, it will be restriped to create eight lanes. Also work below the bridge will result in more height clearance for trucks.
PHASE 2B WILLbegin near the Holliday Unit on the west and Texas Department of Criminal Justice land on the east (just past Wiesner Huntsville).
Local drivers will recall it was just a few years ago that the Highway 75 and I-4 5. Interchange at the truck stops was redone to improve flow. That interchange, though relatively new, will come out though it appears the bridge will remain and access to the facilities, and 75 north from east to west will remain. Ramps appear to go away, to be replaced by the new interchange.
According to Delmy Reyes, PE, project director at the TXDOT Huntsville office, the current interchange never was designed to be permanent – it was a temporary relief for a traffic flow problem. Taking I-45 access from that area would lessen impact on local traffic.
The new interchange will be near San Jacinto Street on the west side of 45 and Moffett Springs Road on the east; in other words, north of the truck stop area. In addition, access roads and drainage will be improved.
The widening will continue on to FM 1696, which crosses I-45 just south of the rest stops.
These projects, when added to the improvements from the Montgomery County line north and the current Park Road-Highway 19 work involve roughly a $760 million TXDOT investment in Walker County and Huntsville and close to a decade of work.
During the public hearing at 6 p.m. on Aug. 9 public input on the design plans will be taken.
NOTE:Detailed drawings and schematics will be published to the extent possible by WCNT following the Aug. 9 hearings. But, the best way to understand the project would be to attend the hearing.
Rich Heiland, former publisher of the Huntsville Item and owner of Free Press publications, LLC, a reporting/writing firm working with media, has been a reporter, editor and publisher at several daily papers. He was part of a Pulitzer Prize winning team. He taught journalism at Western Illinois University. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or 936-293-0293.