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Excerpts from H-GRTS* Newsletters, 1970's and 1980's

*Houston-Galveston Regional Transportation Study, now the Houston Galveston Area Council

The Houston regional planning council publishes quarterly newsletters. I've picked out some interesting information from these newsletters from the 1970's and 1980's.

April 1971
"The presently planned Expressway System in this region will, when completed, total almost 1000 miles of which about 30 percent is completed. Another 40 percent is designated and is in various stages of development. The remaining 30 percent consists of proposed controlled access facilities.

"Newly opened or improved segments include the South Loop - West Loop Interchange (IH 610), and IH 610 S between South Wayside and SH 35. IH 45 S between FM 1959 and FM 518 in Galveston County has been upgraded to full interstate standards. Presently, there are 9.2 miles of uncompleted segments on the Interstate System, all of which are located within the City of Houston. The missing link on IH 10 connecting the Katy and East Freeways is scheduled for completion within a year, and the uncompleted segments of IH 610 North and East within two years if sufficient funding can be obtained. Several segments on the Interstate System are designated to be widened or upgraded to full interstate standards in the immediate future as follows: IH 45 in Galveston County, and in Harris County IH 610 S between IH 45 S and SH 225, the IH 45 S - IH 610 S Interchange at Gulfgate, IH 610 N between IH 45 N and Hardy, and between Homestead and IH 10 E, and IH 10 E between IH 610 E and the San Jacinto River. The section on IH 10 E between the San Jacinto River and Decker Drive (Spur 330) is presently under contract for upgrading and is expected to be completed this year. In addition, it is proposed to widen IH 610 W between US 59 and US 290 and IH 45 S between US 59 and IH 610 S."

January 1972
"The only facility, classified as a freeway, opened to traffic in 1971 was SH 225 between Richey and Red Bluff Road in Pasedena. In addition, the IH 10 San Jacinto River crossing was upgraded to full interstate standards. IH 10 between US 59 and IH 45 north of downtown Houston is expected to open for traffic in May. Major expressway projects completed last year include US 59 in Montgomery and Liberty Counties (from Loop 494 in New Caney to Cleveland), SH 146 in La Porte (Crest Lane to Fairmont Parkway) and FM 1764 in Texas City between SH 3 and SH 146. Also, the section of SH 146 between Fairmont Parkway and Red Bluff Road opened for traffic recently."
April 1973
Channel Bridge Opened to Traffic
"The National Society of Professional Engineers states that Houston's first bridge over the Houston Ship Channel is one of the ten outstanding engineering achievements of 1972. The giant structure is one of the the several bridges and overpasses on IH 610 East and is the largest ever built in Texas. At present it serves traffic between Clinton Drive on the north side of the channel and Manchester on the south side. The remainder of IH 610 east will open by September. It is estimated that 120,000 cars per day will pass over the bridge's ten traffic lanes in 1980."
January 1974
"The only new sections added during 1973 include IH 610 (East Loop) between Clinton Drive and SH 225 in Houston, and US 59 (Southwest Freeway) between SH 6 and Spur 41 in Fort Bend County. Including the sections on the Interstate Highway System previously mentioned, there are presently some 62 miles under construction, which upon completion will offer a usable freeway or expressway facility. Other construction includes 9 miles of frontage roads and 20 miles of preliminary construction in addition to over 25 miles of existing facilities being upgraded or improved."

"The missing sections (of the interstate system), all on IH 610 in Houston, are presently in the final stages of construction and are expected to be opened for traffic with a year."

January 1975
During 1974, 8.2 miles of freeways were opened for traffic, all located in Harris County. The final segment of the East Loop (IH 610) between Clinton Drive and IH 10 completed the linkage of the IH 610 Bridge over the Houston Ship Channel with the rest of the freeway system. Another section of IH 610 (South Loop) between IH 45 and SH 225 opened for traffic late in 1974 after two years of extensive improvements. A significant accomplishment and the highlight of the National Highway Week celebration was the opening of the US 59 linkage between the Southwest Freeway and the Eastex Freeway in the southeastern section of downtown, which also included the SH 288 (South Freeway) connection to IH 45. Another segment of US 59 (Southwest Freeway) finally saw the opening of the main lanes for traffic between FM 1092 near the Fort Bend County line and Bissonnet. The section on US 59 between FM 1092 and US 90A in Fort Bend County is expected to be opened for traffic in the near future. Other projects to be completed in the first quarter of 1975 include the new section of IH 610 (North Loop) between Hardy and Homestead, the widening of IH 610 (North Loop) between Homestead and IH 10 (East Freeway), the frontage roads on US 290 (Northwest Freeway) between Pinemont and Hempstead Highway at FM 529, and the main lane structures on IH 610 (South Loop) at the Gulfgate interchange which should give partial relief to heavy congestion presently experienced at that location."
October 1975
Transportation Week Activities in Houston
"The Commissioners boarded a HouTran Bus to I-610 (North Loop) where they performed the opening ceremony of the section of I-610 between Hardy and Homestead. The opening of this 2.7 mile section of roadway marked the completion of the 38.3 mile Loop 610 around Houston. Planning for this facility first began in 1946 under the designation of Loop 137. Total cost for the entire Loop was $169,423,000. The next stop was at Almeda Medical Square where the Commissioners ... participated in the ground breaking ceremony marking the start of construction of the new South Freeway (S.H. 288) between US 59 and I-610 (South Loop). The first contract will include the North and South McGregor Street Structures and frontage road bridges at Brays Bayou.

texasfreeway.com note: The reconstruction of just the West Loop as a "no capacity added" project from 1998 to 2005 will cost $233 million. Unfortunately, inflation renders historic highway cost figures as meaningless.

January 1976
"During 1975, a total of 6.5 miles of new freeway facilities were opened to traffic, about par with the average rate during the last five years, but a far cry from the construction rate experienced during the sixties which saw an average of 18 miles of freeways and expressways being completed annually. The new facilities include IH 610 north between Hardy and IH 10 east and through lanes on IH 610 south at the IH 45 interchange at Gulfgate, thus closing the last gaps in the 38.3-mile IH 610 Loop in Houston as well as having all of the designated Interstate Highway facilities in this area open to traffic. In addition, short sections on US 59 between Harris County and US 90A in Fort Bend County and US 290 between Dacoma and 34th Street in Houston were completed."

"As the map and accompanying table indicate, sizeable segments of freeways/expressways are under construction, chiefly in Fort Bend County (US 59) and Brazoria County (SH 288). US 59 is expected to be opened to traffic this year between SH 6 and a point west of Rosenberg and SH 288 between IH 610 and old SH 288 north of Angleton next year."

"Despite annual construction expenditures by the State Department of Highways and Public Transportation in the range of $40 million in Harris County alone, the new facilities opened for traffic have not been able to keep up with the ever-increasing demand in the Houston urban area. As most of the daily users of the Houston freeway system can testify, there has been a significant increase in peak-hour congestion. Compared to 1970 conditions, which represented the overall peak in vehicular mobility in Houston, a backlog of 67-lane miles or over 10 miles of 6-lane freeways existed at the end of 1975. At the rate population and vehicle travel have increased during the last five years, 33-lane miles per year are needed to maintain the 1970 level; that is, the backlog represents 2 years of construction."

January 1977
"Deletion of certain elements from the system, mainly the Grand Parkway, has reduced the mileage of the ultimately planned system from 1000 miles to nearly 900 miles. Of this 900 miles of planned freeways and expressways, 368.1 miles have been completed as of December 31, 1976. This represents an addition of 80 miles to the completed system since the beginning of 1970 or an average of 11.4 miles per year. At that rate, it would take 45 years to finish the system as planned."

"To highlight the progress made in 1976, 15.1 miles of US 59 in Fort Bend County was opened as an expressway, and upgrading and widening of 8.6 miles of IH 45 (Gulf Freeway) in Galveston County was completed."

texasfreeway.com note: The Grand Parkway was restored to official planning documents by 1985.

January 1978
"1977 was a year accentuated by the tremendous growth of the Houston Metropolitan Area. New car sales exceeded 200,000 per year which will yield and estimated 150,000 net gain in vehicle registrations, both new record levels. A record 60,000 housing starts were listed during the last year and Houston continues to lead the nation in residential construction. Even though the State Department of Highways and Public Transportation had nearly one-third of a billion dollars under contract by the end of 1977 - a new record of course - not a single mile of freeway or expressway was opened for traffic since last year's status report."

(After a lengthy description of the funding situation): "Even this substantial infusion of funds will not be enough to complete the 700 mile system of state designated freeways within the H-GRTS area. The likelihood of the other proposed noncommitted facilities to be built within a reasonable time frame are even less. The existing system consists of 368.1 miles of freeways and expressways open for traffic with an additional 67.6 miles under construction in various stages, including 15.4 miles of upgrading or widening of existing freeways and expressways."

April 1978
IH 45 Reconstruction Project Near
"The reconstruction of an elevated 0.6-mile section of IH 45 in downtown Houston adjacent to the central business district is described by representatives of FHWA as the 'largest mass detouring system used on any construction project' in the nation. The original 16-year-old structure was designed for economy and was constructed for only $3.5 million. The structure is sound, but the special lightweight concrete slab is flaking and cracking due to the heavier-than-expected traffic volumes. 'The original cost was so low,' says supervising bridge engineer Ed Suchicki, 'that, even throwing in the cost to repair, the taxpayers got their money's worth and will for a long time.' "
July 1978
226,190 Vehicles per Day
The highest reported 24-hour traffic volume, during 1977 at a permanent traffic recorder, occurred December 16 on the Southwest Freeway west of IH 610, an all-time high, both for Houston and the state of Texas. This record high has already been exceeded several times during the first half of the year. On June 30, 1978, the number of vehicles crossing Buffalo Bayou on the West Loop (IH 610) reached 227,470, while on the same date, 226,940 vehicles were counted on the Southwest Freeway (US 59) west of IH 610. Both of these stations had ADTs over 200,000 for the month of June, needless to say, another record."

texasfreeway.com note: The Southwest Freeway just west of IH 610 registered 371,000 vehicles per day in 1998.

May 1982
The total of actual expenditures (payments to contractors) for calendar year 1981 is not available, but as a comparison a record high of 199 million dollars were paid out during fiscal year 1981 in Harris County alone. This is nearly four times as much as the average annual construction expenditure during the 1970's but adjusted for inflation the same 200 million dollars actually represent less real expenditure than that experienced 10 years ago. Taking the tremendous growth in population and vehicle usage during the last decade into account, this means a drastic reduction in the level of expenditures per person and per vehicle with the current mobility crisis and deteriorating roadways as a direct result."
October 1983
Harris County Voters Approve Toll Roads
"In a Harris County Toll Road bond referendum on September 13, voters approved the issuance of up to $900 million in guaranteed revenue bonds to build the Hardy Tollway and the main lanes on major portions of Beltway 8. The major portions of Beltway 8 include West Beltway 8 from the Southwest Freeway (US 59) to the North Freeway (IH 45) and East Beltway 8 from the Gulf Freeway (IH 45) to the LaPorte Freeway (SH 225)."
January 1985
"During 1983 the watchword in the H-GRTS area for transportation was 'crisis.' While this word characterized 1983 conditions, during 1984 the watchword for transportation became 'confrontation.' Confrontation of a crisis that was overwhelming our mobility allowing 65% of the freeways in Harris County to be rated as having unacceptable levels of service. According to the 1984 Houston Metropolitan Area Survey, conducted between April 1st and 8th by the University of Houston, 58% of the persons surveyed cited traffic congestion and difficulty in mobility as the single biggest problem facing them."

"Other special achievements made during 1984 include the initiation of construction on the 21.6 mile Hardy Toll Road approximately one year after the $900 million bond referendum authorized it. The expected completion date is scheduled for December 1988 and the project will cost $315 million. Consideration is also being given to constructing a 26-mile West Belt Toll Road. Major modifications were completed on IH 10 (East Freeway) during the past year from the 610 East Loop to just east of Beltway 8. The freeway was resurfaced and widened from four to eight lanes and upgraded to full interstate standards. Let's not forget that State Highway 288 (South Freeway) was opened on September 5, 1984, from Brays Bayou to Rosedale Street. This 0.9 mile section costing $7.6 million closed the gap on this important highway which now affords nonstop travel from downtown Houston to Angleton in Brazoria County.

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