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Infrastructure – Transportation

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) directs its maintenance and construction activities from district offices located throughout the state. The department serves Gulf Coast residents from area offices in Angleton, Houston, Rosenberg, La Marque, Conroe, Humble, Wharton and Liberty. Spending and construction activities for the region are concentrated in Harris County, which has projects costing an estimated $10.4 billion under way. Brazoria County is the second-busiest, with $2.7 billion in projects.15 The department’s spending tends to center on a few main roads, including:

  • State Highway 99, currently running south from Interstate 10 in Harris county to just north of US 90A, and southwest from Interstate 10 to FM 1405 in Chambers County;
  • Interstate Highway 45, running northwest from Galveston through Harris, Montgomery and Walker counties toward Dallas;
  • State Highway 288, running north from Freeport in Brazoria County toward Houston in Harris County;
  • U.S. Route 59, running northeast from southwest Texas though Wharton, Harris, Montgomery and Liberty counties;
  • State Highway 35, running southwest from Houston through Harris, Brazoria and Matagorda counties toward Corpus Christi;
  • U.S. Route 290, running northwest from Houston through Harris and Waller counties;
  • Interstate Highway 10, running west from Louisiana through Chambers, Harris, Waller, Austin and Colorado counties;
  • Interstate Highway 610, forming the inner loop around downtown Houston; and
  • State Highway 146, running south from Livingston through Liberty, Chambers, Harris and Galveston counties toward Texas City.16

The region’s 4.8 million vehicles – 64 percent of them registered in Harris County –travel 98.2 million miles every day.

Exhibit 31 displays funded projects in the region estimated to cost more than $25 million each. The costliest initiative is the construction of an interchange connection ramp for Interstate Highway 610 in Harris County. The project will cost an estimated $242 million and is funded by state-issued general obligation bonds authorized.17

Stimulus funds released under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will finance two of the largest projects in the region. As Exhibit 31 demonstrates, the money will be used to fund construction on Beltway 8 and Interstate Highway 610. An additional $476 million in stimulus money was allocated for projects pertaining to segment E of State Highway 99 (Grand Parkway or SH 99). However, TxDOT has since reallocated the funds at the request of the Harris County Commissioner’s Court.18

Exhibit 31

Selected Highway Projects and Associated Costs, Gulf Coast Region

Highway or Road County Description Segment Estimate Stimulus Funding
IH 610 Harris Construct Interchange Direct Connection Ramp West of 34th St on US 290 to North of IH 10 on IH 610 $241,927,013 No
IH 45 Harris Widen Roadway Nyack Rd to South of FM 1959 $58,103,232 No
BW 8 Harris Construct Freeway Ramps US 59 North $56,171,343 Yes
IH 610 Harris Rebuild Roadway East of Ella to IH 45 $50,097,439 Yes
US 59 Montgomery Widen Roadway Liberty County Line to South of FM 2090 $46,426,104 No
FM 1488 Montgomery Construct New Roadway Lanes East of FM 149 to FM 2978 $41,184,010 No
CR Harris Widen Roadway Beamer Rd to Tallship Ln $39,998,830 No
FM 646 Galveston Widen Roadway FM 517 to FM 1764 $36,303,120 No
SH 105 Liberty Construct New Road SH 105 to West of FM 1010 $35,449,828 No
SH 35 Brazoria Widen Roadway Harris County line to FM 518 $29,565,989 No
CR Brazoria Construct New Roadway Lanes CR 48, CR 894 to SH 6 $25,987,652 No

Source: Texas Department of Transportation.

Two of six major highways designated as “Corridors of the Future” by the U.S. Department of Transportation make their way through the region.

Exhibit 32

Highway Miles, Vehicle Miles Driven and Registered Vehicles, Gulf Coast Region, 2008

County Name Centerline Miles Lane Miles Daily Vehicle Miles Registered Vehicles
Austin 287 614 1,359,736 37,076
Brazoria 476 1,294 4,679,734 279,616
Chambers 309 744 2,431,195 38,468
Colorado 330 761 1,600,455 27,082
Fort bend 434 1,182 6,381,407 429,422
Galveston 332 1,059 4,880,887 259,329
Harris 1,181 4,882 59,872,287 3,076,623
Liberty 368 817 2,092,655 76,252
Matagorda 319 691 744,092 37,396
Montgomery 477 1,219 8,347,427 385,240
Walker 343 799 2,342,963 48,341
Waller 235 584 1,848,701 42,665
Wharton 395 885 1,648,643 45,998
Region Total 5,486 15,531 98,230,182 4,783,508
Statewide Total 79,975 192,542 488,790,361 21,171,729

Source: Texas Department of Transportation.

The region has a total of 5,486 centerline miles (miles traveled in a single direction regardless of the number of lanes) and 15,531 lane miles of state highways (Exhibit 32). Its 4.8 million vehicles – 64.3 percent of them registered in Harris County – travel 98.2 million miles every day. The state’s road network comprises 79,975 centerline miles, 192,542 lane miles and 21.2 million registered vehicles that travel 488.8 million miles every day.19

While the region’s roads represent fewer than 8 percent of the state’s centerline and lane miles (7 and 8 percent respectively), 23 percent of all state vehicles are registered in the region’s counties, a situation contributing to severe traffic congestion. Houston is particularly vulnerable to traffic delays; 39 of the state’s 100 most congested highway segments are located in and around Harris County. The Texas Transportation Institute ranks the city 11th most-congested in the country. Houston drivers face an average of 56 hours of traffic delays annually.

Gulf Coast road construction for state, local and private sources accounted for 15,185 jobs and $650.8 million in earnings in 2008.20

Exhibit 33

Gulf Coast Region Highways

See text version.

Source: Texas Department of Transportation.

View text for Gulf Coast region highways.

Trade Corridors

Texas is a major entry and exit point for international trade, leading the nation in export revenues with $192.1 billion in 2008.21 The Gulf Coast region in particular serves a critical role as a transshipment site for goods traveling by sea. Trade corridors running through the area link ports to major metropolitan areas and provide passage for north-south and east-west freight traffic.

Two of six major highways designated as “Corridors of the Future” by the U.S. Department of Transportation make their way through the region: Interstate 10, running east to west from Florida to California, through Chambers, Harris, Fort Bend, Waller, Austin and Colorado counties; and the proposed Interstate 69, a superhighway that will extend from Mexico to Canada through Wharton, Fort Bend, Harris, Montgomery and Liberty counties (Exhibit 33). The two highways were selected based on their importance as interstate freight routes and their resulting susceptibility to congestion.22

Interstate 10

Within Texas, I-10 links El Paso, San Antonio, Houston and Beaumont. The segments between Houston and the Louisiana border, and between Houston and San Antonio, are the third- and fifth-busiest of the state’s international trade corridors in terms of volume moved by truck. According to the Department of Transportation, I-10 carries 22 percent of all NAFTA traffic through the state.23

Interstate 69

I-69 is an eight-state initiative to build a 1,600-mile highway linking Mexico and Canada. While its exact route is yet to be determined, it will originate in Texas and proceed north to Michigan. The thoroughfare will combine 360 miles of existing roadways with newly constructed segments. Its proposed path traverses Texas from the state’s southernmost tip (in the Rio Grande Valley or possibly Laredo), and extends north to the Texarkana/Shreveport area, following US Highway 59 through Victoria, Houston, Lufkin and Nacogdoches.24

Interstate 45 and U.S. Highway 59

Two other major roads make their way through the region. I-45 runs northwest from Galveston, connecting Houston and Dallas. The second, US 59, runs from the Mexican border at Laredo in south Texas to the Texas-Arkansas border near Texarkana, and continues north to Minnesota and the Canadian border. TxDOT has designated US 59 as one of four priority corridors that it will focus on this decade. The roadway carries about 6 percent of the state’s NAFTA traffic.25

Exhibit 34

Gulf Coast Region Rail Lines

See text version.

Source: Texas Department of Transportation.

View text for Gulf Coast region rail lines.


Railways are an essential component of the Gulf Coast’s transportation infrastructure, providing freight services that support the petrochemical industries and facilitate the transfer of its products to ports on the coast.

Houston and Galveston are important rail centers, with five rail yards between them. Two Class I rail lines, Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), operate in the region (Exhibit 34).

Union Pacific provides the most comprehensive coverage of the area, with lines extending from Houston to every county in the region. BNSF also has a significant presence in the region. A line heads northwest from Galveston to Hillcrest Village where the route diverges, continuing northwest through Austin via Brazoria and Fort Bend counties and north to Harris County, where it breaks and heads northwest again through Montgomery County.26

Amtrak offers passenger service on its Sunset Limited route that runs from New Orleans to Los Angeles. The trains depart three times a week and make stops in Beaumont and Houston.27

Public Transportation

Several providers in the Gulf Coast region offer public transportation services (Exhibit 35). Harris County’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO) serves the region’s largest urban area, providing commuter services including bus, light rail, vanpool and ride-share programs in a 1,285-square-mile service area. Harris County also provides transportation services to residents outside of the METRO service area through Harris County Transit.28

Island Transit serves the city of Galveston. It operates seven bus routes covering a total of 27 square miles, and a street trolley that covers six miles including the downtown area. The District provides bus services in Montgomery and Walker counties, and waterway cruises through the Woodlands corridor. Colorado Valley Transit serves Austin, Colorado, Waller and Wharton counties. Connect Transit serves Brazoria and Galveston counties. Fort Bend County provides bus service for its residents, while the Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission subcontracts for transportation for residents of Matagorda County.29

Houston and Galveston are important rail centers, with five rail yards between them.

Exhibit 35

Public Transportation Resources, Gulf Coast Region

Public Transit Authorities Office Locations Counties Served
Brazos Transit District City of Bryan Liberty, Montgomery, Walker
Colorado Valley Transit City of Columbus Austin, Colorado, Waller
Fort Bend County Rural Transit District City of Sugar Land Fort Bend
Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission R Transit City of Victoria Matagorda
Gulf Coast Center Connect Transit City of Texas City Brazoria, Galveston
Island Transit City of Galveston Galveston
Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County City of Houston Harris

Source: Texas Department of Transportation


The Gulf Coast region is home to 47 public use airports, including two commercial service airports. Houston’s airport system comprises two commercial airports, George Bush Intercontinental and William P. Hobby, as well as a third facility, Ellington Airport. Together, the three airports make up one of the nation’s largest multi-airport systems, currently ranked fourth nationally and sixth internationally.30

George Bush Intercontinental is the region’s major international air gateway, with flights to more than 170 destinations. Nearly 43 million passengers passed through this airport in 2008. In that year, the airport was the eighth-busiest U.S. passenger airport, the eighth-largest U.S. gateway for nonstop travel and the 17th-largest for cargo operations.

George Bush Intercontinental is the region’s major international air gateway, with flights to more than 170 destinations. Nearly 43 million passengers passed through this airport in 2008.

Seventeen passenger airlines currently operate out of the 10,000-acre facility, including Aero Mexico, Air Canada, Air France, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, British Airways, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Emirates Airline, Frontier Airlines, KLM Dutch Airlines, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, TACA, United Airlines and US Airways. Houston-based Continental Airlines manages its largest hub at George Bush Intercontinental, currently offering about 700 daily departures.34

William P. Hobby Airport, the smaller of the two commercial airports, is a 1,304-acre facility providing flights to 32 domestic destinations.35 In 2008, it served 8.8 million passengers. Five passenger airlines have regularly scheduled flights from Hobby Airport, including AirTran Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, and Southwest Airlines. Southwest Airlines operates its largest hub from this location.

Ellington Airport, a joint-use military/civilian airport, is located on 2,362 acres 15 miles southeast of Houston’s central business district. Airport tenants include the U.S. military, NASA, the Texas Army National Guard and Delta Connection Academy. Ellington Airport also hosts the Commemorative Air Force’s annual Wings Over Houston air show.36


Gulf Coast ports have a considerable impact on the region’s economy, contributing to the more than $135 billion generated by Texas ports each year. The region’s four ports, in Freeport, Galveston, Houston and Texas City, accounted for 15 percent of the nation’s total oceangoing vessel calls and 5 percent of its waterborne foreign container shipments in 2008. The Houston port alone was the sixth-largest trade gateway in the U.S. (by value of shipments) in 2007.37

Houston is the nation’s largest port for petroleum and chemical tanker calls by a significant margin, handling more than 19 percent of the nation’s tanker calls in 2008.

The ports also serve a pivotal role in supporting the region’s petrochemical industries. Together, Houston, Texas City and Freeport handled 27 percent of the nation’s petroleum and chemical tanker calls in 2008.38 Houston is the nation’s largest port for petroleum and chemical tanker calls by a significant margin, handling more than 19 percent of the nation’s tanker calls in 2008.

The Port of Houston, made up of the Houston Port Authority and the Houston Ship Channel, has served as a catalyst for the region’s development and has been instrumental in the establishment of more than 150 private industrial companies around the port. The Houston Ship Channel provides convenient access to nearby Texas oilfields.39

The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) links Texas ports, including those of Texas City, Freeport and Galveston, to a 1,300 mile canal extending from Texas to Florida. The waterway completes almost a third of its course in Texas, where it runs northeast along the coast from Brownsville. While the Port of Houston is not directly on the waterway, it has access to it via Galveston Bay. The waterway is the nation’s third-busiest. In 2006, the Texas segment of the waterway processed more than $25 billion worth of goods, 87 percent of them petroleum or chemical products.40 For more information on Gulf Coast ports, see “Sea Ports and Trade.”

Port of Houston

PHOTO: Port of Houston Authority


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