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Texas U.S. 59 Multibillion-Dollar Overhaul Plans May Not Solve Flooding Issue, Officials Warn

For decades, U.S. Highway 59, a vital evacuation route out of Houston, has posed challenges for East Texas. In April, flooding on par with Hurricane Harvey inundated the region, resulting in multiple closures along the highway. This severed a critical evacuation path for numerous individuals seeking refuge from the deluge.

According to Fox News, Texas has poured millions of dollars over the past 30 years into upgrading parts of the highway to interstate standards — an effort known as the I-69 project — with the goal of relieving traffic congestion, supporting economic development, improving safety for travelers and upgrading a major evacuation route for the state’s most populous city.

Thus far, only the part of U.S. 59 that runs through Houston has been upgraded to interstate standards, with a minimum of two travel lanes in each direction, 12-foot lane widths and paved shoulders of a specific width on both sides.

Steps to upgrade the highway in other areas have focused on larger population centers, such as Lufkin and Nacogdoches.

Portions of U.S. 59 between Cleveland and Shepherd as well as between Shepherd and Livingston saw significant flooding in April. Those stretches of highway were closed multiple times between April 29 and May 4 — then again when more heavy rain came the weekend of May 16 — and are supposed to receive upgrades in the next four years.

Those sections are part of nearly $6 billion the state plans to pour into the highway over the next decade or more to upgrade the highway to interstate standards, address safety issues and cover basic maintenance. TxDOT says it has allocated $1.5 billion for projects already underway or that begin soon on U.S. 59. The agency has another $4.3 billion allocated for future projects scheduled to begin in the next four to 10 years.

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