EXPWY. LANES: OBSOLETE WHEN COMPLETE?

While everyone else was talking about the need for mass transit along Central Expressway, state highway commission Chairman Robert Dedman was doing something about it.

Dedman, a strong proponent of the $150 million double-decking of Central, hasn’t exactly been billing the project as a mass-transit alternative.

Given current driving habits and projected growth rates, “We will be saturated pretty much from the day that we open [the new lanes],” says Don Walden, supervising planning engineer of the highway and transportation department’s regional office.

Central currently carries 125,300 vehicles per day across Lemmon Avenue. By the year 2000, it is projected to carry 235,900. That’s 110,600 additional cars; the ideal capacity of the four new raised lanes would be only 72,000 vehicles per day.

Even if the expressway-widening was already completed, Central’s problems would not be completely solved. Dedman notes that the expressway currently carries three times its design capacity of 10,000 vehicles per lane each day. Stop-and-go congestion sets in at 13,000 vehicles per day. “Even if we doubled the [expressway’s] capacity, we would only reduce the lane count to 15,000 per day,” he says.

His answer: the creation of special lanes for buses, vans and carpools, collectively known as “high-occupancy vehicles” or HOVs. The average car on Central carries 1.6 persons. Dedman says the figure could rise to four with the right incentives.

The right incentives would be one or more high-speed lanes dedicated to such vehicles. “We can’t offer that now, but when we build new lanes, we can,” Dedman says.

He foresees using one lane in each direction on the raised decks for HOVs. The second raised lane would be used by regular autos; trucks would be restricted to ground level. If traffic counts warrant it, he says, both of the raised lanes could be used for carpools and buses.

In the long run, Dedman says, the emergency lanes on the raised decks could conceivably be converted into right-of-way for a rail transit system.

But he views rail systems as expensive failures and says HOV lanes seem like the most sensible solution to Texas traffic problems. “That is what Houston has gone to; that has been their principal solution, and it has worked for them.”

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