Fasten your seat belts — it’s time for a detour down the new ramp TxDOT just opened off I-45 north to 59 north. Included in the footage: new views of the downtown skyline, along with some of an adjacent ramp now under construction between the 2 highways that’ll offer freeway sightseers an even higher vantage point when its open.
You can see it taking shape off to the left in the still photo below:
THE BUILDUP TO TEAR THINGS DOWN FOR THE NEW I-45 HAS BEGUN
“I’ve noticed a trend in lower Fifth Ward to start building or planning to build in the path of the upcoming I-45 reroute,” writes a Swamplot reader. “Is there a chance that developers can make more money on their buyout if they have developed plans?” Developed or not, there’s certainly been some action along the right of way that TxDOT plans to crater for the new highway segment — like that recent buying and selling in East Downtown across from the GRB. No one’s signed up to build anything new on those parcels yet — but with roadwork not slated to start until 2020, that’s plenty of time to get something ready ahead of the demolitions the highwaymen have planned to make way for the reroute. [Previously on Swamplot] Diagram of I-45 reroute: TxDOT
HOW A 6-BILLBOARD COURTSHIP CAMPAIGN AIMS TO LURE LEBRON JAMES TO HOUSTON
“A lot of times, players recruit players,” Rockets fan Greg Andrews tells the Chronicle’s Maggie Gordon, “Teams recruit players. And now, what I’d like to see is fans recruit players.” That’s what the 36-year-old oil-and-gas equipment executive hopes to do with the set of 6 billboards he installed along Houston roads last week. His pitch focuses on Houston’s spirit: “we’re a very hospitable, nice environment,” he says — a potential draw for the 3-time MVP as he enters his mid-30s: “Family matters. It matters in Houston, and it matters to LeBron.” Since the Cavs player isn’t likely to be driving the Houston freeways anytime soon though, Andrews hopes the signs will first inspire other fans to echo his plea (elaborated on his website) in videos shared online and hashtagged #htownthecrown. “My ultimate goal,” says Andrews “is to have J.J. Watt, Jose Altuve, Travis Scott, those Houston celebrities do ‘Hey LeBron’ video” The billboards will stay up for 3 weeks, past the July 1 deadline for LeBron to forgo the rest of his $35.7 million contract with Cleveland and opt into free agency. [Houston Chronicle ($)] Photo: Kyle Hagerty
The latest 18-wheeler to drive into the Houston Ave. bridge didn’t make enough of an impact to force repairs yesterday, although it did stall I-10 traffic all the way to T.C. Jester while TxDOT closed 2 lanes to clear the debris (including the truckload pictured above pinning a sedan) and inspect the overpass to ensure its integrity. (The last round of bridge maintenance in March — to repair a strike in December — couldn’t have come at a better time: “Just as crews were putting barriers in place,” for an overnight closure to fix the damaged structure, another truck drove into it — reported Houston Public Media’s Gail Delaughter.)
Over the last 4 years, the 14-ft.-3-in.-high bridge has been hit 22 times — reports Click2Houston; historically, it’s struck “more than any other bridge in the Houston area,” says a TxDOT spokesperson. Not a great track record — until you factor in how many trucks aren’t hitting it as a result of TxDOT’s high-tech warning system. In 2015, the agency installed infrared sensors at Mercury Dr. and Wirt Road that detect oversized vehicles and — if spotted — flash a warning message to get off the road on an electronic billboard. Between January and June 2 of this year alone, the sensors transmitted 13,477 warnings.
I-45’s new, longer flyover is creeping steadily west toward 59 north following about 7 months of work to get there. The farther-away photo above looks south from the corner of Hutchins and Jefferson streets to show where the partly built roadway currently drops off, about 2 blocks east of its planned merge with 59.
The existing ramp toward 59 north — which diverges from the Gulf Fwy. just east of Emancipation — shut down last December 1. Its soon-to-be-built successor branches off from 45 a few blocks further east, giving drivers more time to swerve onto it than they had previously:
AN ASPHALT FAULT ON THE 59 OVERPASS ABOVE LITTLE YORK RD. Over the weekend, TxDOT made temporary repairs to a stretch of the Eastex Fwy. that crosses over Little York Rd. by pouring a “hot mix” of asphalt over a portion the roadway, Meagan Flynn reports. Crews planned to return to the site for more permanent repair work tonight, but got an early call this morning after the concrete beneath the road’s surface collapsed overnight, opening up a hole straight through southbound side of the overpass. ABC13’s Courtney Fischer snapped this photo of emergency workers looking down through the hole after multiple accidents took place this morning during rush hour. Portions of the freeway are now closed for repairs. [Houston Chronicle] Photo: Courtney Fischer
WAS IT A GOOD IDEA TO DERAIL I-10? Earlier this week Harris County Judge Ed Emmett appeared to pass judgment on one aspect of the Katy Fwy. wideningcompleted almost a decade ago: “We cannot go back in time and undo some poor decisions, but we can learn from those decisions. One of the most glaring mistakes was the failure to convert the abandoned Katy rail line to commuter rail. Think about it, we had a straight shot from Katy all the way into Downtown.” But ripping up the tracks did not render a future rail line along the path of I-10 completely impossible, notes Dug Begley: “Though the rail line was removed, Metropolitan Transit Authority paid for overpasses along I-10 to be built to rail standards, meaning that if the region ever wanted to use the freeway for light rail, that is possible. Larger, commuter, trains, however would not be able to operate in the freeway.” [Houston Chronicle] Photo: cemaxx (license)
That’s not a retention pond pictured near the center of these aerial shots highlighting the vacant lot at 12906 Memorial Dr. — or at least that wasn’t its original main purpose: It’s the Sam Houston Tollway, shown filled almost to the brim after Hurricane Harvey flooding. “Lot has been cleared and is ready for construction,” declares the listing description for the featured 11,760-sq.-ft. vacant property, one house away from the corner of Memorial and Beltway 8. It’s now marked down to $505,000.
The only photos of the lot included in the listing are drone views that include the adjacent Memorial Dr. underpass, shown in its full-of-water configuration:
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