Years ago, Katy Road was a blacktop going from Houston to – where else? – Katy. In the 1950s, a study indicated the need for an intrastate freeway system, and in the 1960s, work began on I-10 West. Later, following a study by the Texas Highway Department, the road was widened. After another study, it was expanded again.
Then, in a few years, the Houston Department For Handling the Road Construction Lobby did a study, and an HOV lane was put in. But each time more cement was poured and more lanes were added, the traffic only got worse. This is due to Parkinson’s Law of Gridlock: “Traffic expands to meet the lanes available.”
If this is the case, Houston can never build enough freeway lanes to handle its vehicles. This, however, does not mean we don’t keep trying. There is now a movement to widen Katy Freeway once more, but by how much? Between downtown and Katy there are up to 12 lanes, counting the service roads. The HOV lane makes it 13. Some would like to add two lanes in each direction, four-lane service lanes and a two-lane toll road HOV lane in the middle. A study has been ordered to see if this is feasible.
There are, of course, some anti-growth folks who worry about the increase in air and noise pollution. “We don’t want our children to wear gas masks and earplugs,” one parent said. These are the same people who think paying for public schools is more important than landing the Olympics.
Working on the theory that if one is good then two are twice as good, there is now an additional proposal that a double deck be built from the West Loop to Sealy. As U.S. Rep. John Culberson explained, “If 18 lanes are good, 32 lanes are three times as good.” U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay agreed so long as no federal funds went to the project, preferring to see the money go to Dallas.
The Harris County Commissioners Court suggested that a special “super lane” be added but limited to those who have the title “county judge” or “commissioner.” Members of the school board, the city council and the sports authority demanded to be included, one of the latter group explaining, “If we’re important enough to have free luxury suites at all the stadiums, we should have our own freeway lane as well.”
By shifting funds from flood control and the county hospital district (“bells and whistles” as one MTA board member put it), money was made available to buy all the land between Memorial Drive and Long Point. Soon, contracts will be let for Phase One of the Katy Freeway Expansion & Campaign Donors Appreciation Project. This construction may create some temporary traffic congestion, although it is scheduled for completion in 2110. When finished, the Katy Freeway will be wider than most freeways are long.
As outlined by Citizens Opposed to Non-Creative Responsible Entities in Texas Expressways, or CONCRETE, “Phase One means one car, one lane.” However, a $20 million study by the Orange Barrel Manufacturers Society shows that by the time this new super expressway would be completed, it will be obsolete and may need a major expansion. Phase Two is still under discussion but contains plans for a lane for card-carrying Friends of the District Attorney Who Do Not Like to Drive 55.
There has been some talk of putting a light rail line alongside the Katy Freeway to ease traffic while helping the environment. Such a proposal was put before the Texas Department of Corduroy Roads but died for lack of a second.
When the U.S. Department of Transportation offered to pay for half the cost of light rail, the plan was rejected. When the offer was increased to paying the entire cost, Houston refused to even answer the letter. When the federal government said it would pay twice the cost of a light rail line and cover health costs, house payments and two-week vacations for all Houston citizens, Rep. DeLay branded it “typical Washington interference in local affairs.” However, there is a proposal to provide children with gas masks and earplugs. It’s being studied. ih