Our Crisis: Engineer Considers Options for Houston’s Transportation Future

Eavesdroplet, Southwest, Transportation
Thursday, February 20, 2014
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Houston. (Paul Sableman / Flickr)

Houston. (Paul Sableman / Flickr)

It’s no secret that Houston is going through a growth spurt. The city currently has four central business districts that, if separated, would each be among the country’s top 15 employment centers. In the next 30 years, 3.5 million people are projected to move to the 8-county region, with two million of those concentrated in Harris County.

The Houston Skyline. (jgilber0 / Flickr)

The Houston Skyline. (jgilber0 / Flickr)

In a recent presentation to the Livable Houston Initiative, Kimley-Horn Associates engineer Sam Lott characterized the increased traffic that this population growth will entail as an impending crisis. “Our crisis is that we cannot build enough capacity,” said Lott. “TxDot is reaching the limit of what they can do. They’re now at a point where it’s going to be a challenge to maintain the capacity we’ve got. More traffic will move to city streets and the congestion on the freeways…is going to last all day long. The light rail and bus system, as important as it is and as we need to build it, is not in itself going to be able to provide the necessary capacity.”

Lott put forth a three-fold solution to this congestion forecast.

1) Establish protected right of ways to increase the capacity of the freight rail system.
2) Create a regional commuter rail system as an alternative to the freeways with stops every five to 10 miles.
3) Build a grade-separated transit circulator system to work in concert with the light rail and regional commuter rail.

Lott posited that a grade-separated circulator that connected the city’s four employment centers would be a boon for Houston. “I believe we would have the economic equivalent of Manhattan if this system were built,” he said.

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