State Highway 288 TOLLWAY: Does a Toll Really Benefit Us?

So, the question on the minds of many people who are accustomed to traveling up and down State Highway 288 (SH 288) on a regular basis, is will they have to use the toll lanes once the group hired to complete the 10.3-mile SH 288 Expansion project is finished?

The Forward Times has an answer for you.

Well, at least the Forward Times has an answer that has been provided by the people in charge of the project at the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). They say the answer is ‘No’.

While many in the community remain skeptical this will remain the case over time, TxDOT is assuring the community that no motorist will be forced to use the toll lanes once they are completed because SH 288 will have general purpose lanes accessible for use also.

In other words, TxDOT plans to have managed lanes, which typically give motorists the opportunity to choose between two options. Now, for those who are unfamiliar with the difference between managed lanes versus toll roads, let us help.

On a toll road, all motorists are required to pay a mandatory toll fee because all the lanes are specifically set up to make every motorist pay a toll fee with no exception. On the flip side, when highways have managed lanes, motorists have the option to either drive in the designated non-tolled, general-purpose lanes or pay a toll fee to drive in the managed lanes that have the potential to offer more expedient and somewhat predictable travel times. Managed lanes also may include what are called “variable” or “dynamic” tolls that change based on the time of day, or can increase when traffic is congested or drop when traffic is flowing.

If a motorist does decide to take advantage of the toll road lanes, no one will be exempt from paying the toll, except emergency vehicles of course. It has not been determined what specific method will be used to collect tolls, but toll collection will be compatible with all EZ Tag and TxTag systems.

Another pressing question that has permeated in the community is whether having this new toll road is really necessary and beneficial to motorists?

TxDOT says the answer is ‘Yes’, and believes the SH 288 Toll Project will help accommodate additional traffic and improve access to the Texas Medical Center and downtown Houston, while improving the operational efficiency of SH 288.

SH 288, which runs from downtown Houston to southern Brazoria County, provides a vital route for commuters as well as for freight and commercial trucking. It also serves as a hurricane evacuation route. The SH 288 toll road Expansion project includes the construction of four tolled lanes – two in each direction within the existing SH 288 median. These improvements encompass a 10.3-mile stretch from US-59 to the Harris/Brazoria County line at Clear Creek.

Between the addition of toll lanes and the improved functionality of these interchanges, TxDOT is stating that travel on SH 288 will be more direct and easier than ever before.

The SH 288 expansion includes three (3) major interchanges:

  • Beltway 8, which will include eight (8) new direct connector/ramp bridges
  • Loop 610, which will include eight (8) new direct connector/ramp bridges
  • The Texas Medical Center, which will include two (2) new direct connector/ramp bridges

The design and construction improvements are valued at $815 million. Funding to move this project forward came from the Federal Highway Administration’s Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program. The initiative provides federal credit assistance in the form of direct loans, loan guarantees, and standby lines of credit to finance surface transportation projects of national and regional significance.

Construction for the SH 288 toll road Expansion project began in October 2016, and is projected to be completed by the second quarter of 2019, allowing for a planned 1000 days of work. Blueridge Transportation Group (BTG) is overseeing the SH 288 project as the developer and Almeda-Genoa Constructors is performing the design and construction portion of the project.

Hours of construction and lane closures will vary throughout the project, and traffic will not be routed onto neighborhood streets during construction. Motorists and residents are being encouraged to check the website to receive information and updates on the project, as well as stay up-to-date on the latest construction updates, affected traffic areas, alternate routes, detours, lane closures, ramp closures, U-Turn closures and alerts as they arise.

Individuals can also sign up to receive emails and text updates on the SH 288 toll road Expansion project.

One other major adjustment that everyone should prepare for is the demolition of the Southmore Blvd. bridge, that will begin in late January or early February.  The demolition and construction of a new bridge will last anywhere from 12 to 18 months.

Here are a few ways for you to get around as the construction continues.

  • If traveling Eastbound, take SH 288 Southbound Frontage Road to Calumet St. U-Turn at Calumet St. to SH 288 Northbound Frontage Road
  • If traveling Westbound, take SH 288 Northbound Frontage Road to Blodgett St. U-Turn at Blodgett St. to SH 288 Southbound Frontage Road
  • If traveling Northbound, take Southmore Blvd. exit, continue towards Blodgett St. U-Turn at Blodgett St. to SH 288 Northbound Frontage Road
  • If traveling Southbound, take Southmore Blvd. exit, continue towards Binz St. U-Turn at Binz St. to SH 288 Southbound Frontage Road

While traffic flow and access to key areas may improve as a result of this expansion, many are concerned whether the $815 million spent on this expansion will also fix the major flooding issues that have been known to impact SH 288 whenever a major thunderstorm hits the area.

According to a project spokesperson, they are focused on dealing with the historic flood issues.

“We are mitigating for our new improvements so as not to have an effect on the roadway,” said Raynese Edwards, Public Information Coordinator for Blueridge Transportation Group. “The mitigation includes detention ponds at 610, Beltway 8 and between the two on 288.  Additionally we are putting new drainage from the north at the 69/288 split through the south end of the project at the Harris/Brazoria County line at Clear Creek.”

Time will tell if that is the case, as well as whether TxDOT will keep the general-purpose lanes on SH 288 as an option for all motorists as promised as time progresses.