The Streak: 20 years, 70K deaths and unfulfilled plans for zero road fatalities in Texas

Names add faces, but it’s the details that put the true horror to the reality on Texas’ roads. One day it’s two or three people, killed in a head-on crash on Interstate 45 in Buffalo and a city street in Sugar Land.

The following Friday it is 15, mostly drunken-driving solo crashes. A couple in Houston and Dallas on freeways and others outside Luling and Midland on rod-straight farm-to-market roads.

Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into years and it keeps going, until two decades go by and more than 70,000 people are dead.

Saturday marked 20 years of at least one death a day on Texas roads, a bleak milestone in a long-simmering safety crisis lawmakers and local agencies have pledged to stop but have barely slowed in the past two years.

“The numbers don’t reflect it yet, to be frank,” state Transportation Commissioner Laura Ryan said of efforts to eliminate roadway deaths by 2050.

Source: The Streak: 20 years, 70K deaths and unfulfilled plans for zero road fatalities in Texas – HoustonChronicle.com

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TxDOT trading tolls for managed lanes as it lays out long-term plans

The story of Houston’s growth and its roads has always been about bigger. More people has meant more concrete, farther into the suburbs and wider in the dense core.

Now, state transportation officials are starting to re-write that, planning major projects focused on managed lanes along key freeways that encourage transit and carpool use, while potentially providing places to test new types of transportation.

For some commuters, it is long past time transit and carpool options were provided, while others long for even more open road for solo cars.

Texas Department of Transportation officials simply recognize they are running out of room, cannot rely on toll lanes to curb congestion and need support from across the region to accelerate projects they are planning.

“This is about transportation real estate,” said James Koch, TxDOT Houston district planning director. “It’s just real estate out there. We are obviously not going to double the size of the facilities we have, so what do we do with the space we have.”

Source: TxDOT trading tolls for managed lanes as it lays out long-term plans – HoustonChronicle.com

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TxDOT leaves a tip for restaurant chain: Don’t mess with our trademark

A Baytown-based Mexican restaurant group thought it had come up with a catchy, perfectly cheesy phrase for its newest billboard: Don’t Mess with Tex-Mex.

El Toro’s corporate leaders were so taken with it, they applied for a trademark on the phrase.

Nacho fast, the Texas Department of Transportation said.

TxDOT lawyers on Tuesday filed a claim with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office opposing El Toro’s application, saying the restaurant’s slogan is too close to the highway agency’s well-known anti-litter campaign.

“Any confusing misuse of the phrasing infringes on our trademark in violation of federal law,” TxDOT spokeswoman Veronica Beyer said.

In other words, you could find yourself enchilada trouble.

Source: TxDOT leaves a tip for restaurant chain: Don’t mess with our trademark – HoustonChronicle.com

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TxDOT’s $7 billion plan to shorten your I-45 commute may displace hundreds of families

Wherever Armando Litchenberger looks around Urbana Recording Studio, there are memories. The stool Jose Feliciano sat on to record a couple tracks. Goldie Hawn used the studio to mix the soundtrack for a TV movie she directed. Duran Duran re-cut a guitar track that didn’t test well while on a world tour.

“There are memories here that are not replaceable,” Litchenberger said as he showed off the Near Northside performance room where the neighborhood’s de facto house band, La Mafia, recorded the songs that won four Grammys, which now sit a glass trophy case a few feet from the soundboard.

Beatles memorabilia and signed posters from hundreds of musicians and celebrities line the walls, but it is a pin in the parking lot that draws Litchenberger’s attention these days. Driven in by a surveyor, the pin marks the property line for a wider Interstate 45.

The I-45 project’s toll on local property owners would be unprecedented for TxDOT in Houston, potentially relocating hundreds of families and businesses. Estimated to cost at least $7 billion, the project will rebuild I-45 from downtown Houston north to Beltway 8, and change how it connects with other downtown freeways.

That means rebuilding — by removing — pieces of Fifth Ward, the Northside, Acres Homes and Aldine. Spots south of North Main where third-generation Latino residents help neighbors work on cars in their driveway. Or Tidwell, which bustles with activity as the commercial center and is the only place within walking distance of her apartment where Shondrae McBride, 26, can get her nails done, pick up marinated carne asada and drop off her husband’s cell phone for repair across from a Pho restaurant.

“Not everybody has a car to get around,” McBride said.

Source: TxDOT’s $7 billion plan to shorten your I-45 commute may displace hundreds of families – HoustonChronicle.com

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A Texas family torn apart by fatal crash put back together by hometown

Standing in the front yard, ringed by family and friends that are practically family, Bryston Ferguson knew Thursday morning that he had landed a $20,000 scholarship that will help him realize his dream of becoming an orthodontist.

The scholarship and his 4.1 high school GPA are impressive, bittersweet achievements, coming as they do just 16 months after his parents were killed in a car crash that orphaned Bryston, his two brothers and little sister.

The kids’ grandmother, Judy Ferguson — herself mourning the death of her husband of 36 years — moved in to take care of them, trading her empty nest for a full house. By the end of the year, however, the family had been evicted and the children sent to live with relatives and family, scattered from Waco to College Station.

The news of Bryston’s scholarship was made all the sweeter by having his siblings together for the first time in months , and that the boys got a chance to meet the son of baseball legend Mickey Mantle. They hugged tightly in the yard.

The scholarship announcement was just the lure, however. The real surprise was behind them.

Source: A Texas family torn apart by fatal crash put back together by hometown – HoustonChronicle.com

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Grand Parkway debate comes east with construction three new segments

Houston is a faraway place on FM 1413 in southern Liberty County, where a driver is more likely to see a pony munching on grass than a shop on the corner. If not for the trees and an electrical transmission line, the sky would be unbroken, horizon to horizon.

Everything changes about three-quarters of a mile west of Texas 146. A tight stand of trees on each side of the road gives way to a wide swath of flat land, from which a concrete wall rises along a ramp crawling with construction workers building one of three new segments of the Grand Parkway.

It soon could look a lot more like other parts of suburban Houston where the Grand Parkway has gone, with cul-de-sacs replacing horse pastures and retail centers sprouting at major intersections.

In nearby Dayton, where the tollway offers opportunity and oppression alike, residents are quietly but amicably divided.

Source: Grand Parkway debate comes east with construction three new segments – HoustonChronicle.com

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Bayou City Initiative demands improved planning from TxDOT to avoid freeway flooding

Resilience to heavier storms requires freeways that can handle flooding without becoming impassable, leading a local group to demand more of state and federal transportation officials.

Bayou City Initiative, a nonprofit aimed at raising awareness of the challenges as Houston faces more frequent and stronger storms, sent letters Wednesday to the Texas Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation, urging them to quickly and aggressively address low-lying areas along interstates and highways at high risk of flooding.

“We are going to have to quit accepting that our freeway system gets shut down during floods,” said Rice University Professor Jim Blackburn, who formed the Bayou City Initiative. “It may take years to get out of this mess, but we need to start thinking about it right now.”

The group’s letter makes two demands of transportation officials: Establish a flood warning system that would shut down freeways prior to flooding so vehicles are not in harm’s way, and immediately begin work on long-term fixes to the areas most likely affected by flooding.

Source: Bayou City Initiative demands improved planning from TxDOT to avoid freeway flooding – HoustonChronicle.com

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Massive I-45 project will remake Houston freeway spine, but at what cost? 

Strip away the enormity of rebuilding Interstate 45 and the promise of speedier trips along downtown Houston freeways, and two questions about the once-in-a-generation project remain:

How many negative effects are acceptable in one neighborhood for other people’s faster commutes?

And, how far should transportation officials go to reduce those impacts, to secure support and not vocal opposition?

“This is the defining project in the city of Houston for the next 20 years,” said Michael Skelly, a local businessman and organizer of the Make I-45 Better Coalition. “Doing it properly means minimizing impacts and, where there are impacts, mitigating them properly.”

Impacts expected from the widening of I-45 from downtown north to the Sam Houston Tollway — including a $3 billion remake of the downtown freeway system that buries a portion of the freeways and tears down the Pierce Elevated — run the gamut of environmental and social ills: air quality and flooding concerns for schools, day cares and low-income communities; removal of public housing developments in a city already hurting for affordable homes; concrete pillars and ramps rising above pristine park space along area bayous; uprooting 300 businesses employing 24,000 people and 1,400 homes.

“What concerns us as a group is inequity,” said Oni Blair, executive director of LINK Houston, a local transportation advocacy group. “They will feel losses, not gains.”

Source: Massive I-45 project will remake Houston freeway spine, but at what cost? – HoustonChronicle.com

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Plastics Road lives up to its name as Dow debuts new asphalt recipe

Plastics Road at Dow Chemical’s Lake Jackson campus is now, perhaps, the most plastic road in America. If it holds up, drivers could find themselves rolling atop discarded shopping bags in no time — and with little notice.

As a test of its own polymer resin, the company repaved about 2,600 feet of the two-lane road around one of its newest polyethylene plastic manufacturing plants using an asphalt mix that includes post-consumer recycled plastic. It is a first for the company in North America, and one of the widest uses of recycled plastic for a roadway in the nation.

“It is creating a new use for something that needs to be recycled,” said Jeff Wooster, global sustainability director for Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics.

Source: Plastics Road lives up to its name as Dow debuts new asphalt recipe – HoustonChronicle.com

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Metro plan’s mix of transit, services a nod to differing Houston-area demands

Transit officials have a starting point for $7.5 billion in investments to Houston’s roads, bus systems and rail lines meant to move the region in a new direction — with the stated goal of moving some of those future commuters out of private automobiles.

What they ask voters to approve as a first step to smoother trips, however, is going to rely on how residents react to some of the specifics. Which projects get built first, or even listed, could depend on how support solidifies in many communities.

“What we get back from the community governs what we will ask for,” said Metro Chairwoman Carrin Patman.

Source: Metro plan’s mix of transit, services a nod to differing Houston-area demands – HoustonChronicle.com

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