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.
This short schedule puts the construction activity into the area at the same time as the EPA plans to remove the toxic Waste Pits from the North and South sides of the bridge. TxDOT said they are aware of this problem and taking it into consideration. Also being studied is how the expanded highway, at a higher elevation, would join with existing roads on the east and west banks. They are especially concerned about the intersection with Crosby-Lynchburg Road, and Highway 330, they said.
The cross section of the bridge design they may adopt shows a clearance under the structure of 45 feet, and a clear span shore to shore of 450 feet. (See diagram). The width of the bridge, and how many lanes is has, will depend upon the PEL study, the engineers say. It might be 4 to6 lanes each direction, and possibly with an HOV lane in addition.
The bridge is expected to cost $250 to $350 million dollars, and so far no source of funding has been identified. TxDOT said that typically a mix of local, state, and federal monies are used.