11/19/18 11:45am

WESTHEIMER WILL HENCEFORTH NOT BE CALLED UR 1093 ANYMORE, SAYS TXDOT Before last week, TxDOT had an obscure formal name for Westheimer Rd. on the books: UR 1093. The designation — short for “urban road” — was created 23 years ago to distinguish city thoroughfares from farm to market roads, reports the Chronicle‘s Dug Begley. But “No signs were ever erected,” he writes, “and it became clear no one was going to stop calling the roads what they always had, officials said in a written briefing for transportation commissioners. The only place the urban roads ever appeared was in the internal TxDOT roadway inventory.” There, Begley counts 30 Houston-area roads that were set to set to become URs “in theory, at least.” Officials killed the designation on November 15, reinstating Westheimer’s previous pseudonym FM 1093. The only thing that really changes: where funding for those roads can come from. Had the UR designation stuck, says a TxDOT spokeswoman, they would’ve been eligible for some extra federal maintenance money aimed at cities. [Houston Chronicle ($)] Photo of Westheimer Rd. at El Real Tex-Mex Cafe west of Yoakum Blvd.: Bill Barfield via Swamplot Flickr Pool

11/16/18 12:00pm

PHOENIX TOWER DOUBLING DOWN ON PARKING A new 8-story parking garage will be built next to the Phoenix Tower’s existing 8-story parking garage writes Ralph Bivins over at Realty News Report. The planned “garage annex,” he reports, “will adjoin Phoenix Tower’s original eight-story garage and also provide direct, covered access to The Hub,” the restaurant-heavy core of Greenway Plaza, between Buffalo Spdwy and Edloe St. Architect HOK has already signed up for the project, which the developer says should start before the end of the year. [Realty News Report] Photo: Parkway Properties

11/14/18 1:00pm

COASTAL DEFENSE EXPERTS SAY IKE DIKE WON’T BE ENOUGH WITHOUT A BACKUP WALL With the public comment period underway on the Ike Dike proposal the Army Corps issued last month, Rice University scientist Jim Blackburn weighs in on the project: “We think that there is too much remaining surge exposure,” he tells the Chronicle‘s Nick Powell on behalf of the research team he heads. Why’s that? “The storms that are being analyzed by the Corps are, in my opinion, too small,” Blackburn says. “They’re just not making landfall at the worst locations, with the type of wind fields and characteristics we’re seeing.” Had the Corps’ methodology accounted for a worst-case storm, says Blackburn, its analysts would’ve seen that the projects they proposed — 70 miles worth of walls and gates between High Island and San Luis Pass — are inadequate without a key addition: an upstream gate that’d run across the middle of Galveston Bay, further shielding the Ship Channel and its adjacencies from floodwaters. “We are going to argue that to any governmental entity that is interested,” says Blackburn, adding, “I think we need options. If all of our eggs are in a $30 billion federal appropriation, that just sounds too risky to me.” One key selling point for the gate: It could be built in about half the time the other proposals would take and at a fraction of their cost, says Blackburn, between $3 billion to $5 billion. [Houston Chronicle ($); previously on Swamplot] Map of Ike Dike proposal: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

11/13/18 1:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT DRIVE-BY SIGHTSEERS STAND TO LOSE WITHOUT MEMORIAL DR. Open space in an urban context can be experienced in a positive way while in a car, and for many people who do not have time to dally, this is the only positive urban experience that they are likely to have on a regular basis. The idea of a ‘parkway’ is not inherently evil. And yes, it requires land, and yes, urban land is a precious thing . . . but when it generates both appreciation and a sheer volume of use, that is justified on more than simply a utilitarian basis.” [TheNiche, commenting on Comment of the Day: Swapping Out Memorial Dr.’s Speedway Setup for Something Worth Walking] Illustration: Lulu

11/13/18 12:30pm

WHAT’S NEXT FOR HALLIBURTON’S EMPTY OAK PARK CAMPUS ON BELLAIRE? A newly-formed group of real estate experts is now brainstorming ideas for Halliburton’s 48-acre former Oak Park campus at 10200 Bellaire Blvd., just west of Beltway 8. Included in the brain-trust: architecture firm HOK and landscape and planning firm SWA Group — as well as Hines and Transwestern, which will handle property management and leasing, respectively. They’ve all been called in by a private investment group that bought the complex over the summer and that’s headed up — reporter Ralph Bivins has said — by longtime Sharpstown land huckster Lawrence Wong. Halliburton employees began trickling out of their offices in the bow-tie-shaped 1979 building 3 years ago, leaving behind the amenities (a basketball court, daycare center, and auditorium) and adjacencies (a conference center and 5-story garage) that the new owner is now touting. Photo: LoopNet

11/09/18 1:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: SWAPPING OUT MEMORIAL DR.’S SPEEDWAY SETUP FOR SOMETHING WORTH WALKING Remove the freeway configuration of Memorial Dr. from Shepherd to Downtown. An urban street is all that is needed here since this mid-century design was prior to I-10 and was the original route for Katy-bound suburbanites. The bayou is now the destination — not a place to flee at break-neck speeds. Besides, the freeway configuration is useless as it ends prior to Memorial Park. The configuration has exceeded its useful life and is actually in very poor condition. Reasonable thought to an improved alternative is preferred and hopefully includes more park space.” [El Chico, commenting on Plucking the Cloverleafs off Waugh Dr. at Memorial So Extra Park Space Can Take Their Place] Illustration: Lulu

11/09/18 9:45am

THE WOODLANDS CAVALRY UNITS ORDERED TO RETREAT FROM WALMART, COSTCO PARKING LOTS Effective January 1, mounted patrols will no longer be present at the 2 stores opposite each other on Hwy. 242 at I-45 — reports The Villager’s Marialuisa Rincon — although they’ll remain at Town Center and Hughes Landing. The Woodlands’ contract with the company that provides the equestrian detail, Alpha & Omega Services, previously made up 13 percent of the township’s $14 million law enforcement budget, reports Rincon. But unlike police officers, the riders “don’t carry guns and are prohibited from intervening if a crime is in progress — instead, they’re required to contact law enforcement if an incident merits police attention.” The cuts will save the town $470,000 a year until the contract goes up for renewal in 2020. They’ll also require Alpha & Omega to eliminate positions from its force for the first time since arriving 23 years ago in The Woodlands — which has become “our crown jewel,” said the company’s president, adding: “Every operation we have in the country, we bring our troopers here to train.” [The Woodlands Villager] Photo: Alpha & Omega Services

11/07/18 1:30pm

THE MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF THE WOODLANDS’ DOCKLESS BIKE FLEET The sudden disappearance of dockless bikes from their usual hangouts in The Woodlands left staff at the town’s newspaper scrambling to figure out where they all went last week: “A Woodlands Villager reporter drove to four areas where the popular ride-sharing bicycles were routinely located and found no bikes,” writes editor Jeff Forward. When reached for comment, township official Nick Wolda told him that the Chinese company behind the fleet, MoBike, became tough to get a hold of starting in July. But the 100-or-so bikes it handed over last year were still there: “In August, we were rocking and rolling and ridership numbers were good. Then, all of the sudden, the bikes started leaving. We were starting to field calls from residents about them, asking where they were.” Wolda never received word from MoBike that the company planned to skip town, and the only mention reporters could find of the firm’s intentions was a note a former employee wrote on his LinkedIn profile: “Mobike decided not to pursue the Houston market — my position was eliminated as of July 2018.” Officials are now holding the few stray bikes that have been spotted since the vanishing act for safekeeping. “If the company wants to come get them, that’s fine,” Wolda says. [The Woodlands Villager; previously on SwamplotPhoto: MoBike  

11/06/18 5:30pm

NINE HARRIS COUNTY POLLING PLACES MAKING UP FOR LATE STARTS WITH LATE ENDINGS Texas civil rights groups wasted no time suing the county today over delays that kept polling places closed past their mandated 7 a.m openings. At John Marshall Middle School on Quitman St., “poll workers were locked out of the building until 6:47 a.m.,” reports the Texas Tribune‘s Alexa Ura. And when they got inside, technical problems stalled things even further. As decreed by a county judge, the location will now remain open an extra hour — until 8 p.m. — along with 8 other problem spots: Iglesia Trinidad church off Cypress Creek Pkwy., Metcalf Elementary at Queenston and Little York, Evelyn Thompson Elementary near Greenspoint, the Hampton Inn at Wash Ave and the Katy Fwy., the Fiesta Mart between Kirby and OST, the Allen Parkway Village community building, Lone Star College’s Cypress Center campus on Clay Rd., and HCC’s Alief Center on Bissonnet St. [Texas Tribune] Photo: Houston ISD

11/06/18 11:15am

GONE VOTIN’ Swamplot’s stepping out this morning to head to the polls. If we’re not back soon, that’ll tell you something about today’s turnout. (And if we are, well . . . that might tell you something, too.) Just over 1,000 locations are open across Harris County from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. today. If in doubt about which one’s yours, you can look it up here.

11/05/18 9:30am

HARRIS COUNTY MAKING ROOM FOR ALL THE STRAYS IT ISN’T PUTTING DOWN ANYMORE Good news for Harris County’s homeless animals: The odds of getting out of the pound alive more than quintupled over the past 7 years — reports Community Impact’s Zac Ezzone — up to 78.8 percent in 2017 from a grim 15.1 in 2010. But it’s become a tight squeeze inside. Built in 1986 to hold 150 dogs and 100 cats, the current shelter at 612 Canino Rd. between Airline Dr. and the Hardy Roll Rd. “is often forced to house close to 200 of each animal,” he writes. Hence the idea to put a new builidng (depicted above) with about twice the capacity of the existing one right next to it — and start construction today, he reports. The county’s human population put up the $24 million for the facility through a 2015 bond referendum. Along with the kennels and veterinary clinic planned inside, an outdoor trail and 4 dog parks will crop up on the grounds. [Community Impact] Photo: Harris County

11/02/18 12:45pm

EVERYONE ORDERED OUT FROM UNDER 59 OVERPASS ON WHEELER, BUS PARKING TO TAKE THEIR PLACE Crews are emptying the Wheeler Ave. tent-stead underneath 59 of all its homeless residents, their belongings, and accumulated residue — Mayor Turner said in a series of tweets today — clearing the way for a new fenced-off bus parking lot to take over the property. Signs announcing the ouster and incoming fences went up Tuesday, said the mayor, and this morning, a METRO bus was on site “to take the 45 or so residents to shelter,” after they “voluntarily accept offers,” to relocate. A month ago the city declared the setup a public health nuisance, reports the Chronicle, a state designation slapped on areas that could be hazardous to those nearby. That’s right around the time Rice bought the office structure one-block north of the encampment, presumably for the so-called Midtown Innovation district it’s now cobbling together from land on both sides of the vacant Sears building it owns as well. [Houston Chronicle] Photo: Swamplox inbox

11/01/18 3:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: CONGRESS AVE. COLLAPSE WAS A LONG TIME COMING “Yeah, if you look on the street view of the building prior to collapse: nice big cracks in the masonry, which looks like a double or single wythe on the front and triple wythe in the sides. All of the bracing for the masonry appears to be missing, too. (You can see the slots at the higher elevations for the roof joists, which would have acted as a diaphragm for the structure.) Kind of amazing it took this long to collapse. Guess last night’s winds were enough to push it over the edge.” [Purdueenginerd, commenting on The Impromptu Collapse of a Congress Ave. Strip’s Most Worn-Out Pioneer] Photo: Arch-ive