By Gilbert Hoffman
HARRIS COUNTY – Although in early stages of planning and design, engineers with TxDOT have begun to talk about the design and schedule for a replacement bridge over the San Jacinto River. With 4 to 6 lanes in each direction and no supporting columns in the river, it would be a vast improvement over the current situation. However, authorities and environmentalists are concerned that construction of a new bridge might interfere with the planned removal of the toxic wastes in the Superfund Site in the river. Workers on either project could be exposed to dangerous toxic waste, and would require special protective procedures. Planners for the EPA are also taking into consideration that work might take place during hurricane season, limiting the schedule to safe months. This might also be a consideration for the bridge construction.
Preliminary details of the design were discussed at a meeting in November with the Economic Alliance, and additional information was learned by this newspaper from TxDOT engineers. TxDOT is currently conducting a PEL or Planning and Environmental Linkage study of the IH-10 corridor, including the bridge. The study includes the corridor as it passes through Houston, Jacinto City, Channelview, Baytown, and Mont Belvieu. A PEL study is a high-level, early-planning study process that represents an approach to transportation decision making that considers environmental, community and economic goals early in the planning stage. It involves public meetings with feedback from the public and interested parties, as well as engineering studies.
Normally a new bridge as contemplated would take 5 to 10 years for design and construction, but TxDOT indicates that due to the critical nature of this corridor, and the continued threat of damage from barge traffic and storms, the schedule may be condensed to 3 to 5 years.