RS&H is wrapping up the first phase of a planning and environmental linkages (PEL) study on the Interstate 10 corridor in Houston. The corridor is a 30-mile segment of I-10 East that stretches 30 miles from downtown Houston at I-69 east to State Highway 99 in Baytown.
PEL Study Primer
The goal of a PEL study is to gather feedback during planning to inform the environmental review process, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In turn, a PEL study can help move a project from concept to construction faster.
At a high level, a PEL study:
- Identifies transportation issues
- Develops the need and purpose for proposed improvements
- Helps inform planning decisions through public feedback
- Streamlines the project delivery process for NEPA
- Identifies environmental constraints, issues and potential future projects
“We’ve developed goals and objectives for the project and also adopted a purpose and needs,” said RS&H Transportation Group Leader Nick Arnio, PE, PTOE, PMP. “The goal is to focus on the needs to be fixed and why they need to be fixed.”
Public Input is Pivotal
Phase I of the PEL study consists of defining the existing conditions, identifying potentially environmentally sensitive areas, and developing goals and objectives to measure success of the study.
Arnio and the RS&H team enlisted help from a project ambassador committee made up of local government officials, business leaders and other area stakeholders to dig into the needs and purpose of what expanding I-10 East could accomplish. By having recurring ambassador committee meetings, the group can help build project champions.
In addition to project ambassadors and other committee and agency meetings, the RS&H team hosted four public meetings at four locations along the corridor area. At each meeting, boards of the existing corridor sat on easels, and everyone was invited to mark them up with sticky notes about issues they saw.
In total, the PEL study team received more than 400 comments.
“We were able to break down those comments into eight categories,” Arnio said. “With a PEL study, we wanted to keep everything high level. What we uncovered will help inform the solutions that are needed.”
RS&H also oversees the project website, which houses project information and contains a variety of public outreach tools to support the alternatives analysis process.
Needs and Purpose Established
The purpose of the I-10 corridor project is threefold: to reduce congestion, improve safety and allow freight vehicles to move in a more efficient manner. With the purpose in mind, many needs arise:
- Increasing Congestion: 2040 Traffic Projections indicate additional congestion in the corridor.
- Crash Rates: Corridor crash rates exceed statewide averages for similar facilities.
- Truck Traffic: A high proportion of trucks (up to 20 percent) restrict operations.
- System Linkage: The corridor is deficient at integration and connectivity of the transportation system, across and between modes.
- Reliability: Non-reoccurring congestion reduces consistency in travel times.
The Road Ahead
Phase I of the project culminates with the development of the Universe of Alternatives that meets the goals and objectives. Phase II will refine the Universe of Alternatives based on fatal flaw analysis and feedback from the ambassadors committee
“Then we go back to our project ambassadors to make sure we’re on the same page, and eventually we will whittle down our list to just three alternatives,” Arnio said. “Those will then help inform the NEPA process.”
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