Gonzalo Camacho is convinced that running 14.5 miles of I-45 under ground would cost less, be built faster, displace fewer people and businesses and create less air pollution than any above-ground road design, reports the Houston Chronicle.
“It’s a no-brainer,” said Transportation Engineer Camacho. “It would be a large error that would be with us for a long time if the elected officials didn’t get behind the tunnel idea.”
Camacho has been the biggest public supporter of making Houston home to what would be the longest tunnel in the U.S., the newspaper reported. Since raising the idea at a public meeting in April, Camacho has since met with Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officials, Houston’s planning commission and community groups.
According to the Houston Chronicle, TxDOT has neither endorsed nor rejected consideration of the tunnel. Spokeswoman Janelle Gbur said the recently completed study phase only addressed general topics. The preliminary conclusions called for adding for lanes to the stretch of I-45 between Sam Houston Tollway and downtown; however, it did not specify truck lanes, toll lanes or additional HOV lanes, the Chronicle reported.
“We have not reached that point in the process yet,” said Gbur. “It’s a graduated process and the goal is improved mobility.” Gbur expects the department to issue a report on all proposed improvements to I-45 in about a year.
“We’ll give all the ideas a good review, and nothing will be eliminated purely on the basis of cost effectiveness alone,” said Gbur.
According to the Houston Chronicle, the TxDOT study suggests that adding four “managed” lanes in the center of the freeway would reduce projected traffic levels on the main lanes in 2025 from 270,000 a day to 250,000. However, Camacho argues that adding lanes to I-45 is only a temporary measure.
“More highway lanes is not a cure to the problem,” Camacho said. “These things run in 20-year cycles. In another 20 years, if not sooner, they’ll want to add more lanes, then we’re back to wear we started.”
According to the newspaper, Robin Holzer, co-founder and chairman of the Citizens Transportation Coalition, said she was immediately impressed by Camacho’s tunnel proposal.
“What we’re interested in are alternatives that are in the interest of the neighborhood, that will benefit their quality of life,” Holzer said. “Where and how we design these projects has an enormous impact on people.”
According to Holzer, the tunnel addresses several of her group’s concerns—flooding risks, displacement of residents and businesses as well as air quality. “There are lots of yucky things that come from living near a freeway,” she said. “I don’t know if the tunnel is the best idea, but I’m sure there’s a lot of interest in avoiding another Katy Freeway.”
Ken Lindow, a realtor who lives in Woodland Heights one block from I-45, belongs to both Holzer’s group and the I-45 Coalition, the Houston Chronicle reported. “The tunnel is really the only alternative,” Lindow said. “It’s the only one that will help us meet the federal clean air mandates by 2007. All the talk about flooding is ridiculous. There are tunnels running underwater. There are tunnels in places a lot wetter than Houston, like Malaysia,” he added.
“It’s done all over the world,” Camacho agreed. “People think it’s not possible in Houston, but the engineering expertise already exists. It can be done.”