Enhancing interstate expansion

Texas Department of TRANSPORTATIONA conceptual drawing shows artist panels underneath new overpasses on Interstate 45 in Huntsville. 

Construction is just over a year away for the next phase of Texas Department of Transportation’s expansion of Interstate 45, which will eventually widen the main thoroughfare between Houston and Dallas to six lanes through Walker County.

Construction on the first phase of the near-$685 million project began in November 2017, as crews sought to expand the interstate from four lanes to six lanes from the Montgomery County line to the edge of Huntsville city limits.

Future plans call for the interstate to be expanded to the Madison County line, which includes an expansion and bridge replacement through the Huntsville city limits.

What often goes overlooked is the landscaping surrounding the project.

On Tuesday, city officials got a first look at the landscaping design for the second phase — a 3.59 mile widening project, which will see TxDOT replace bridges at Montgomery Road and Smither Road.

“The Piney Woods have been an important part of this area for hundreds of years. So we took some steps that would incorporate it into our design,” said Neil Riddle, TxDOT traffic engineer.

According to Riddle and TxDOT landscape architect for Stephen Copley, the city would be responsible for the long-term maintenance of any landscaping enhancements outside of the basic TxDOT package.

“We are after the wow effect,” Mayor Andy Brauninger said. “When people are driving through Huntsville I want them to say ‘Wow that city did it right.’”

The landscaping enhancements would account for approximately 10 acres. However, the city would be given the option to do more if it desired.

The interstate expansion through Huntsville is expected to begin in July 2021.