It’s going to get worse before it gets better.
That was the indirect message officials from the Texas Department of Transportation brought to the Sealy City Council Aug. 6 as they updated the council on construction plans for Interstate 10 in Austin County.
Clayton Harris of TxDOT gave the council an overview of the 10-mile project and said they are doing their best to mitigate the impact on traffic for the next three and a half years as the highway is widened from two lanes in each direction to three.
“The strategy that we’re seeing right now is constructing all of the frontage roads. We want to put all the main lane traffic on the frontage roads once we get them constructed,” he said.
With traffic diverted to the frontage roads, work will commence on widening the main lanes and replacing nine bridges from the Brazos River to FM 3538.
“Right now we’re focused on constructing our frontage roads to enable us to move traffic to the frontage roads,” Harris said. “A couple bridges we’re working on now are the BNSF overpass, State Highway 36, and FM 3538. Those are the bridges you’ll see the most activity on right now. From there we will be going over to FM 1458.”
Harris said TxDOT wants to make the construction zone as safe and convenient as possible.
“We want to maximize the shoulder that we have on our temporary main lane. What we want to eliminate or avoid … is the tunnel effect. We want to allow the drivers as much room as possible. We want to avoid that tunnel effect throughout the entire project,” he said.
He added that the speed limit through the construction zone will be dropped to 60 mph.
One of the key elements will be the demolition and reconstruction of the Brazos River bridges.
“The westbound Brazos bridge will be the first one to come down… We’re going to put the westbound and eastbound traffic on the eastbound bridge,” he said, adding that the traffic will switch to the new bridge while the eastbound span is replaced.
Timing of the bridgework hinges on the current construction project going on the east side of the river toward Brookshire.
“We have to coordinate closely with the project east of us. We have to allow them time for them to get cleared to allow time for the switch,” Harris said.
He said work on the Brazos River bridges could start as soon as the end of the year. He told the council that the project should be completed by the end of 2022, but even then that won’t be the end of construction woes on I-10.
“We’re in the design phase from the county line all the way over to State Highway 71, which is anticipated to let in 2022,” he said.
While there was a representative from TxDOT before the council, Councilwoman Dee Anne Lerma wanted to know when the blinking traffic light on Highway 36 would be converted to a regular traffic light. Harris said original bids for that and another traffic light came in too high, so they will be re-bid this fall.
“It typically takes about three months to get the contracts signed,” he said, adding that the light could be converted at the first of the year.
Austin County’s election official Kim Rinn came before the council to get permission to use the Hill Community Center for early voting next year. She said the center will need to be open eight hours a day on weekdays from Feb. 17-28 for the March 3 election and from Oct. 19-30 for the Nov. 3 election.
“Hill Center is probably the go-to for us because people in this area are used to going there,” she said.
The council, with Mayor Janice Whitehead absent, voted unanimously in favor.
Raises for city council
The council discussed giving themselves and the mayor a raise during last Tuesday’s meeting.
“Current salary is $450 per month for the mayor and $275 per month for council members. The last increase occurred in 1997,” said City Attorney Tim Kirwin.
Councilman Chris Noack clarified that any raises would go into effect after the next election. Kirwin said the subject was brought up now so the raises could be planned for in next year’s budget.
“I’d like to know what other cities comparable to Sealy are budgeted for,” Lerma said.
Councilwoman Jennifer Sullivan made a motion to table the raises to allow time for comparable council salaries to be studied first. That motion passed unanimously.
The council denied a request by CenterPoint Energy for a rate increase. The company asked the city for a 7.4% increase in retail transmission and distribution rates and a 1.8% increase in wholesale transmission rates. The company estimated that the average residential customer would see an increase of $2.38 per month.
Having investigated rates with other members of the Gulf Coast Coalition of Cities, the council determined that application was unreasonable and denied it.