TxDot Interim Chief Looks At Houston's Mobility Issues

TxDot's new interim director says it takes more than just building new roads to solve Houston's transportation problems. John Barton says improved public transit and new freight transportation systems will help take vehicles off the roads. But the challenge is finding money for the projects and that takes innovative solutions.

Interstate 45
I-45 before the I-10 exit, outside of downtown

Barton says Houston has particular needs right now when it comes to the city's ever-evolving freeway system. Barton mentions Highway 290 from downtown to Cy-Fair, the intersection of I-10 and I-45 North of downtown, and  I-45 and U.S. 59  South of downtown.

But Barton says just building more roads won't solve the problem. He says there needs to be a strong focus on mobility issues in the center of the city and that requires multiple solutions. 

"It's improving our bus and transit system, looking at some commuter rail alternatives, and looking at freight movement on rail and other water-borne modes of transportation."

Barton was appointed TxDot's interim director last month.  He's hoping to get the job on a permanent basis.  Barton has been with the agency for 25 years and was most recently an assistant director for engineering operations.  In that job Barton directed long and short-term planning.

As for how to pay for projects, Barton admits it's not easy to attract funding and Texas needs to come up with more cost-effective solutions.  Barton cites as an example partnerships with local governmental entities.  Another solution is private equity.

"There is a lot of capital in privately-held interests today, that are looking for good investments because of the economic  conditions around the world. And transportation in an area like Houston is a solid investment that many private companies are willing to make."

And Barton says the private sector's business acumen is also helpful.

"Men and women that have been very successful in private business have great ideas on how to cut costs and operate things more efficiently, and to design and build more effective solutions." 

Road projects currently in the works for the Houston area include the widening of two segments of the South Belt. The road will be widened from two lanes to four lanes in each direction. Work is expected to start in November. 

Construction is also getting underway on a new segment of the Grand Parkway.  That project will connect I-10 and Highway 290. 

Bio photo of Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

Gail Delaughter joined KUHF in October 2008 as Saturday morning news anchor and host. A native of New Orleans and a graduate of Southeastern Louisiana University, Gail has extensive experience in Texas and Louisiana as a radio news reporter and morning show anchor and co-host...