COMMENT OF THE DAY: A BETTER IDEA FOR WHAT TO DO WITH THE SPACES UNDER FREEWAYS IN HOUSTON “. . . This gave me an idea. That land under freeways isn’t good for retail or anything inhabited. But it could be a perfect place to dig down and create auxiliary stormwater detention facilities.
Yeah the water will be filthy, like your friends bikes usually are, but floodwater usually is. And as auxiliary detention they would only be used in extreme rainfall events (once or twice a year during so-called ‘hundred year’ storms).” [ZAW, commenting on Comment of the Day Second Runner-Up: Things To Think About Before You Start Planning Under-Freeway Developments] Illustration: Lulu
Here’s evidence that the scheduled reconstruction of the entire West Loop—I-69 interchange just southeast of the Galleria is about to begin. “Crews have been ripping out trees and other vegetation,” reports reader and 610 traveler John Greiner: “Much more than could be argued for improving traffic sight lines.”
COMMENT OF THE DAY: BIG SIGNS FOR BIG TEXAS CORNERS “I wish they’d rethink the billboard laws in Texas. Allow more and bigger billboards. The billboards could be taxed, and the money earmarked to our State Parks — they desperately need it. Scenic routes could be designated in certain places, and billboards banned there.
This would turn the buildings at the intersections of freeways into major advertising opportunities. It wouldn’t matter if the buildings lose money, the giant billboards on the roofs would make whatever profit the owners need. Or they might wind up demolishing the buildings to put billboards up in their place.” [ZAW, commenting on Comment of the Day: The Black Holes Where Freeways Intersect] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE BLACK HOLES WHERE FREEWAYS INTERSECT “Freeway interchange corners like this one seem to be tricky places for anything to last a long time. The long flyover ramps create this weird phenomenon where you have to exit a couple miles back and ride the feeder to that spot. Yet those same ramps make the property very prominently visible to tens of thousands of people each day who pass by overhead in their car. For whatever reason, the properties seem to cycle in and out of use and disuse. The changeover is probably exacerbated by construction freeway construction, widening, and ramp rebuilds.” [Superdave, commenting on The End of the Greenspoint Mall Is Upon Us] Illustration: Lulu
WHAT COULD GO UNDER WHEN I-45 MOVES UNDERGROUND AND EAST OF DOWNTOWN Jeff Balke tallies some of the expected carnage just east of Downtown should TXDoT proceed with its planned rerouting of I-45 from the west side to the east side of Downtown, widening the path of that stretch of Hwy. 59 (aka I-69) to Saint Emanuel St. Among the establishments expecting to have to shut down or relocate as a result of the expansion: the Bayou City Barber Shop, Vietnamese restaurant Huynh, Ahh Coffee, Tout Suite, one building of the Ballpark Lofts, low-income housing development Clayton Homes, a couple of nonprofits, SEARCH Homeless Services’ new building, the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen — plus other assorted bars, barbecue joints, artist spaces, and office space. Among the questions Balke keeps hearing in reference to plans to put this portion of a new I-45-69 combo below grade, possibly (only if separate funding can be found) with a greenspace “cap” planted on top of it: “why [would] a freeway would be constructed lower than street level in a city that floods with seeming regularity, particularly when the highway in question is a hurricane evacuation route? TxDOT is quick to point out that we already have roadways below grade throughout the city that have not suffered major flooding problems since Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, which broke records and is widely considered a 500-year flood. Still, flooding is something the agency appears to have taken seriously. ‘No matter the situation, there’s a potential for flooding,‘ [TXDoT spokesperson] Perez explains, ‘but with anything below grade, additional pumps and detention ponds come into play.’ [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot] Rendering showing possible park behind GRB: HNTB and TxDOT
In between showing off various multicolored interchange tangles, the new flyover preview video of the huge changes proposed for I-45 North and the downtown freeway circuit glides viewers by a handful of areas where freeways will dive underground — while splicing in some new renderings of the tops of those tunnels-to-be as they could look, if somebody wanted to pay up to turn them into a park. (The animation is careful to emphasize once again that said parks would have to be developed and funded by a source other than TxDOT — and so far, there are no signs that anyone has stepped up.)
The rendering up top shows the would-be-parallel sections of 45, 59, and SH 288, running behind the convention district where 59 sits now — the whole bundle would be pulled down below flood grade and covered up, evidently with concrete if the park thing doesn’t work out. (A clip of just that section of the 10-minute animation is included above; a tiny rendered version of the Cheek Neal Coffee building can be spied along the edge of the freeway, though SEARCH Homeless Service’snew building one block north isn’t specifically drawn in next to it.)
The video also gives the section of 59 from Main to San Jacinto streets the same burial and dressup treatment:
Having trouble sifting through some of the massive freeway jumbles in the latest plans for that major I-45 reroute between Downtown and the Beltway? This new video (making the rounds this month as TxDOT hosts a set of public meetings to chat about the project) may or may not help you out. The 10-minute animation shows off what the project plans look like in multicolored, car-spangled 3D action, dragging viewers slowly along the entire project route from Spur 521 up to Beltway 8.
The project plans pull 45 over to the east side of Downtown, to line up alongside US 59 and dive underground behind the George R. Brown convention center. Various flavors of new express lanes, managed lanes, managed express lanes, and connectors weave into and out of a massive new 45-59-10 junction as shown above, all labeled by color. Here’s a clip of the above video showing just that section of the animation:
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT IT TAKES TO LIVE NEXT TO THE FAST LANES “The housing stock of the city has MANY luxury apartments located too close to comfort to a freeway. On I-10, the Sawyer Lofts’ north side [sits] right up on the freeway with some units being feet away from an exit ramp. Go further west and I-10 is lined with luxury apartments that look out at the freeway from a very uncomfortably close distance (basically two lanes away, plus a small setback). This is becoming a permanent fixture of the city. I’m not sure why anyone would voluntarily rent one of these, but the developers are banking on housing being in so short supply that someone will basically lose out when the music stops playing and there’s not a chair to sit in and they will be forced to rent one of these. I think that must be the game plan. Maybe they think if it’s common enough people will just subconsciously modify their lifestyle expectations in a big city to thinking its okay to live between 7 and 50 feet from one of the widest freeways in the world.” [Commenter7, commenting on The Downtown Apartments Caught Between a Freeway and a Curved Place] Illustration: Lulu
The view this week around Westpark Dr. at the West Loop includes both the old lattice towers currently holding CenterPoint’s electrical transmission lines and the taller, skinnier single pole models that will be taking over the gig. A reader captured some side-by-side portraits of the old towers and their replacements, which CenterPoint is deploying to raise the lines out of the way of TxDOT’s proposed future edits to the 610-59 interchange tangle. The cherry picker above is shown tethered to one of the new towers in the easement just west of 610; the top shot shows a pole up on the east side of the freeway between the Loop Central office midrises and the Danny Jackson Family Bark Park (which closed down last summer so CenterPoint could work on the land the county had been using as the park’s parking lot).
Here’s a ground-level shot at the base of an old-and-new tower pair just outside the dog park, with some Houston Garden Center inventory in the background for scale:
THE ODDS ON A PIERCE ELEVATED COMEDOWN Writing in the latest issue of Texas Architect magazine — which is now debuting a redone website with a new web address and a new all-articles-are-now free policy — Ben Koush surveys the prospects for the raised section of I-45 now dividing Midtown from Downtown: “While there have been some plans floated around to convert the decommissioned section of the Pierce Elevated into Houston’s version of the Highline,most people I spoke with didn’t think that was going to happen, simply because TxDOT needs the money it could get from selling that right of way to private developers. Some still hold out hope that at least some of the land or maybe even a small section of the elevated roadway could be made into a public green space.” [Texas Architect; previously on Swamplot] Plan of “currently approved scheme” for I-45 rerouting around downtown, showing possible green space: SWA Group
B TEAM WANTS TO SEND THE GRAND PARKWAY WHERE THEY WEREN’T ALLOWED TO GO July 11th is the last day to make on-the-record comments about the route the Grand Parkway planners want to take from 288 to I-45 (known as Segment B of the 170-mile outer-outer loop). The finalized study documents published last week mention that proposed right-of-way runs across about 55 acres of wetlands — though that number isn’t precise: the document also mentions that the study authors couldn’t get permission to enter properties along 70 percent of the route, so the group had to use aerial photos to estimate. TxDOT’s desired route appears to hook in with SH288 at the intersection of CR 60 and follow the Brunner Ditch and South Texas Water Company canals southwest most of the way to SH35; from there it would swing back northeast just past Alvin, then eastward to hit I-45 where FM 646 does. [Previously on Swamplot]