SEABROOK — It’s not a matter of if but when a massive new bridge will span the waters between Kemah and Seabrook.
At a public meeting last week, Texas Department of Transportation officials said they are entering the detailed design and land acquisition phase of the project to improve the state Highway 146 bridge. It’s something that has been in the works for more than a decade.
The proposed bridge will include a lower, six-lane roadway and bridge with exits in Kemah and Seabrook and a four-lane, elevated express lane that would extend from north of NASA Road 1 over Clear Lake to south of FM 518.
The almost 4-mile-long project could cost about $189 million and could begin in 2017. It would take about three years to build, transportation department officials said.
“There is no doubt that at the end of this project we will emerge with a different looking Seabrook,” said Seabrook Mayor Glenn Royal
Royal said the project is needed as traffic counts have increased and will continue to increase. Four years ago, the average daily traffic count on state Highway 146 at NASA Parkway was 36,000 vehicles, Royal said.
By 2015, it’s projected that traffic counts will be more than 50,000. By 2035, there could be more than 60,000 vehicles, he said.
Highway 146 is also a hurricane evacuation route.
“Today, more than ever, our city is feeling the need for this project to begin,” he said.
While the state’s transportation department is moving forward with design, the project depends on acquiring the needed land, said Raquelle Lewis, a spokeswoman for the transportation department.
About 57 businesses, two single-family residences, one multifamily housing unit, two churches and a municipal facility would be affected by the widening of the highway, Lewis said.
“Some of these effects include changes in access, loss of frontage or parking, while other effects include business displacements,” she said.
But the most important player in the land acquisition process could be the Union Pacific Railroad Co.
The transportation department would have to acquire about 25 acres of railroad land, according to documents from the transportation department. But while the state can force private landowners to sell their land through condemnation proceedings, the department cannot force the railroad to sell, Lewis said.
Lewis said the department will have to work with the railroad company to acquire the land.
Railroad company officials could not be reached for comment.
In a comment released to the transportation department, the company said, “Union Pacific has an extensive review process for these types of requests. The process considers all current and likely future use of the rail line, including a thorough review of current leases on the line.”
San Leon resident Faye Williams, a Realtor, said she travels across the 146 bridge often and is aware of the traffic.
“I don’t know the answer — I just know now is a real nightmare,” she said.
She’s gotten stuck at NASA Road 1 many times, she said.
There is going to be some pain that comes with growth and construction, but it’s necessary, Williams said.
“We need something,” Williams said. “I think everybody knows that.”