Comment of the Day: A Big Dig for East Downtown

COMMENT OF THE DAY: A BIG DIG FOR EAST DOWNTOWN “What needs to happen to connect Downtown with the East End/EaDo is TxDOT needs to put 59 in a tunnel from just south of 45 up to Commerce Street. Above ground create a mile long linear park. Instead of the elevated freeway discouraging pedestrian activity, a underground freeway below with a fantastic linear park above would draw in visitors in hordes. Who wouldn’t want to be around or live near a mile long urban park jewel? The value added is enough in itself to justify such a project for the betterment of the city.” [Thomas, commenting on Adding to Convention Center District Easy as 1-2-3 . . . 4-5-6-7]

54 Comment

  • So what Houston needs is a Big Dig? I’d be on board with that. A big park instead of an overhead freeway would do wonders for that area. Especially with the future growth of East Downtown, it’d be great to connect the two areas.

  • If anyplace their shouldn’t be a freeway put underground is where you can’t see Downtown anymore which represents a lot of the experience of this city to love the buildings they get to drive by and enjoy. I’d rather the freeways around downtown become one loop, one way before doing that. If you do want to change something, you can probably make downtown larger from the freeway 45 direction at the north side and let the freeway come into downtown a different direction.

  • No, you know would really connect Downtown to East Downtown?


    Between Bell(/Leeland) and Franklin, there are 14 possible connecting streets. In the past decade or so, 8 streets have been blocked or reduced in capacity by the rail lines. The result is that in this whole stretch, only Leeland/Bell, Polk, Texas (reduced lanes), and Franklin connect Downtown with “EaDo” for more than a couple blocks on each side.

    While I like the park idea, and would enjoy it myself, and I think that we’ll eventually have to add a couple lanes to I-69, what CoH needs to do is stop taking away the connections we already have.

  • Of course Dallas has already done this, and it is wildly popular. In addition, less traffic noise!

  • I’d just move to a city that has green space instead. ;)

  • That’s also been suggested for the Pierce elevated in the past. I would love to see both freeway sections buried and replaced by a ribbon of green space, but I can’t imagine the disruptions and engineering challenges required to do so.

  • @Love swamplot:

    Dallas’s was only a couple blocks, and for a freeway which was already below grade. I-69/U.S. 59 is above grade here. Looks like this proposal, along with Gonzalo Camacho’s tunnel proposal for I-45, are much bigger and along the lines of burying Boston’s Central Artery (aka, the Big Dig). The cost for this would be much bigger.

  • The big dig was supposed to cost Boston 2.8 bil. It ended up costing 14.6 bil. Great idea, but crazy expensive.

  • TXDOT is spending billions raising highways in Houston, a flooded hurricane evacuation route is not a good idea. Next thing you know someone will be advocating basements in Houston.

  • Please consider WaEdDo (way east of downtown), or NaEdDo (North East of Downtown — i.e., the Kashmire Gardens area).
    Thanks in advance! :P

  • oops. I mean ‘WaEaDo and ‘NaEaDo’
    (Its ToEoToPo — Too early to post)

  • @Helios: Talk to Boston. They’ll let you know all about what challenges are involved.

  • Would be great if they did 45 and 59 like this. Houston would be a changed city with huge green spaces. Be like a different version of Central Park.

  • Houston has zero ‘wow’ factor. A mile long park next to downtown would increase tourism, public support, and overall happiness for all Houstonians large and small!

  • Yes! More of this! Allison Aftermath

  • Underground doesn’t work well in our climate. We couldn’t keep the I-10, the Beltaway or 59 (all inside the loop) from being inundated during hurricanes and tropical storms. And the downtown tunnel system? Surely, you jest.

  • We’d have better luck moving all downtown Houston to Conroe. Oh? That’s already happening?

  • You guys know that Houston experiences this little phenomenon called “flooding” from time to time. I’m not a sure that a large roadway tunnel through downtown (or skirting it) would be viable. Even the short sections of open dug-out underpass in this city gets gets completely overwhelmed every fews year when we have a mammoth gully washer. Refresh your memory and Google images of lower I-10 during Allison.

  • Gonzalo Commacho has been promoting for years the idea of making 45N between Downtown and the Loop in an underground tunnel. He is a PE who specializes in transportation and his research shows that it is technically possible, even with our rains.

  • I would love to see that happen. The freeways make it quick to get around downtown, but they totally chop up the city (having lived just east of 288…).

  • I’m pretty sure that the area’s homeless population would also enjoy the green spaces.

  • Yes it would be nice. While we are at it why don’t we also have the entire 610 loop underground… oh, except for the $$$cost. There are more important transpertation issues (in Houston) that need to be addressed. A new park is nice, but where do we intend to get the money to submerge a 1 mile section of 59?

  • Even if 59 is buried, there is still the nearly 1/2 mile long convention center acting as a barrier, and the additional Minute Maid park blocking another 1/4 mile. How about just promoting more actual businesses and residences by replacing the parking lots along Capitol, Rusk, Congress, Franklin and Commerce on both sides of 59, and eliminating the feeder roads for a 1-mile stretch so pedestrians aren’t fighting multiple lanes of traffic??

  • Yes, Dallas’ freeway was already below grade. We have several sections like that here. I-10 near Shepherd, 59 at Woodhead etc, and even parts of 288. To add green space even on a block or so of each of them would dramatically change the feel, and connect both sides of the freeway to each other.

  • It cracks me up to see people write that we can’t have tunnels because it rains here. There are underground and underwater (yeah, really) tunnels all over the world. There is this big one under the English Channel (ocean water!) that has roads and high-topped trains going through it. Every day. Really.
    Building a water-proof/flood-proof tunnel is not hard, just expensive to do properly. Texans and Houstonians are cheap, so the chances of it happening here are nil – unless you can find someone to incorporate a professional sports stadium into the deal.

    And yeah, perhaps once every hundred years the tunnel will flood. Well, it’ll dry out and if designed properly, will work just fine in a few days ala NY’s subway system recently. Houstonians need to travel more – outside of Texas; things people here claim can’t be done already have been – all over the planet.

  • Here is a link to the information prepared by Gonzalo. Houston was built by big thinkers, who may have gotten rich off their big ideas, still built a great city.

  • Jon, I agree that people need to travel more. Maybe they could start by checking out the Washburn Tunnel, less than 10 miles east of downtown. It’s under the Ship Channel and to my knowledge the Ship Channel hasn’t run dry since they first created/widened the channel in 1915. Other examples to check out:
    -tunnel under Mobile Bay
    -Industrial Canal tunnel in NOLA
    -tunnel bridge combo near Norfolk under the Atlantic
    -multiple tunnels near Norfolkunder Chesapeake Bay
    -Lincoln Tunnel in NYC

    Instead we get “herp derp Houston has a little thing called rain” What is this? The Chronicle website?

    @Greg, no need to take it to extremes since no one suggested all 39 miles of the Loop. We’re just talking about 59 downtown and 45 downtown. Adding capacity here is INEVITABLE since the 288 toll lanes will be added, the Hardy will be extended, and the traffic is already terrible here. Maybe the current structures will remain while the tunnels will be tolled, and this will help offset much of the cost to construct.

  • I agree it is time to lower the 59 exchange where it cuts downtown from EADO. The talk of flooding is a mute point, yes if it rains like Tropical Storm Allison it will flood, but it is better for a freeway to flood than NEIGHBORHOOD. TXDOT did many inner-loop areas a favor by building lowered freeway sections since they held water away from many an overpriced home….. We don’t need to drive the freeways when it rains that much and it is easier to pump the freeways out than 500 homes, so those of you who only think “Drill baby Drill”, GET A LIFE AND THINK BEYOND THE LATEST SARAH PALIN SOUND BITE….. some of us want to fix the mess your kids made of our cities after you sent them to expensive schools to learn what? How to rip off ideas our families used to start many a business or maybe it was their genius way of using trademarked logos and names to get higher rankings on the web… you guys should be so proud!

  • So, who is going to fund the extra $10 billion it would cost to bury these things?

  • @Greg asks “…where do we intend to get the money to submerge a 1 mile section of 59?”
    We could have started with the $Billions being spent on the “Let’s make Multi-Millionaire Landowners even Richer/Corporate Welfare” project otherwise known as the Grand Parkway. Funny, how so few question where that money is coming from.

  • I’m all for the Idealism, but if you ever get the chance to drive in Boston on their Big Dig underground freeway – it will convince you that you don’t want one for yourself. It’s not just the legendary Boston drivers which made it so scary, it was the strangeness of exits and entrances that pierce the tunnel walls, and the need to change lanes or merge with this “surprise” traffic that you can’t see until they’re right next to you. At least in Houston the tunnel would be relatively straight, in Boston it twists and turns.

  • way too low there. most of you remember the water line along 59 by downtown during Allison

  • Charles: I’m not trying to be mean, but your posts make little to no sense. Not just that I disagree, it’s that they’re incoherent. It’s almost like random sentences from the Internet are being strung together.
    Or you’re just plunking us.

  • They don’t have to lower 59 at Woodhead anymore than it is, just build a park on top of what is already below grade.

  • @Benny cargill, tunnels under the ocean don’t flood. Little known fact: tunnels have tops while below-grade freeways like the inner Katy Freeway or 59 east of Shepherd don’t, hence the flooding.

    The more you know…

  • yeah, and while we are at it, lets build a tunnel for the Pierce Elevated so we can have a park there and connect downtown and midtown.

    heck, why stop there, lets just put the entire 288/59 interchange underground so that we can connect lower midtown/med center to the third ward with a park.

    just where in the heck are we supposed to get the money for such a project?

  • I’d suggest instead of a ‘Big Dig’, make a big portion of 59 into an overhead park like NYC’s ‘High Line’. This would be a cheaper alternative and add a livable and green destination to our city. The issue would of course be re-routing the traffic; however, we are building a 4th loop w/the Grand Parkway which may alleviate the traffic pressure inside the city.

  • @Eiioi, yes i realize this, so we must first Raise the freeway enough so that we can then bury it. Houston is only about 60 feet above sea level btw. In amsterdam they have whole city circle dammed up, big difference.

  • Great Idea. The money can come from Tillman Fertitta. Give him the naming and decorating rights to the new parks.

  • Jeez people, calm down. The OP suggested a park on top of a below graded section of 59 for about a mile in front of the GRB Convention Center. He said nothing about lowering the grade of the Pierce elevated, the 610, or the Grand Parkway.
    Seattle did this over I-5 back in the 1970’s with what is called “Freeway Park” next to their convention center. It did succomb to lots of crime, though it was recently cleaned up and vegetation removed to make it safer.
    A great alternative is Seattle’s Colonnade Park, which took the land UNDERNEATH an elevated portion of I-5 that was occupied by homeless for years, and turned it into a mountain bike park. So far it is a hit with the biking community there. Best of all, most of it was built by volunteers. Pictures here:
    We don’t have the topography that Seattle does under 59, but I bet some urban planners could figure out a way to do something similar here. We built the Ship Channel, the Astrodome, and The Galleria, surely we could build a little linear park.

  • @PYEWACKET2 I’m not certain the homeless would appreciate the park. They’d be giving up their roof, for some trees, and they’ll likely not be allowed to erect tents.

  • Stop the quibbling. Replace Allen Parkway with a tunnel. That way, the elite decision-makers in our city–who frequent this connection to River Oaks–will understand the usefulness of such improvements and support the idea. It will then trickle down to the masses. That is all.

  • @LandedGent,
    Neither Allen Parkway nor Memorial Drive have congestion problems (unless it’s the marathon, Art Car Parade, or Go Texan Day), so not only is that expensive, it would go mostly unused. And I don’t think the landed gentry of River Oaks are an obstacle to tunneling I-45 or “I-69” downtown.

    Amsterdam was not mentioned and is not relevant. All you need to do is raise the entrance and exits to the tunnel, consider installing flood gates at the ends, and have a pumping system to remove incidental water after a rain. Partial list of places with underwater tunnels that don’t flood:
    -Norfolk, VA (4 tunnels)
    -New York, NY (3)
    -Boston, MA (3)
    -NOLA (2)
    -Detroit (1)
    -Mobile, AL (1)
    -UK-France (1)
    -Denmark (2)
    -HOUSTON (1, but used to be 2 before the Baytown tunnel was taken out of service).
    To my knowledge, none of these places was “raised first” and with the exception of NOLA, none of these cities are below sea level.

    Bottom line, this project is doable. The Sumner Tunnel in Boston opened in the 1930s. Houston’s own Washburn and Baytown tunnels opened in the early 1950s. The technology is there.

  • @Stephen, the High Line was unused for decades prior to making it a park. Not sure it’s the same thing…

  • No way the elevated part of 59 is going any where, and they sure burry it to allow green space. There is a better chance of convincing our ‘leaders’ of tearing down, and NOT replacing, the Pierce Elevated. That would do wonders for downtown. Maybe the elevated 59 will warrant demolition in 50 years and we can dream about putting it in a tunnel then, with a $59 toll each way.

  • Sorry but this is a really dumb idea… The cost would be ridiculous… why waste such an exorbitant amount of money that would be much better off spent on something we actually need? Unless the OP wants to fund it from his own pocket?

  • Does anyone remember the I-69 idea which involved a giant bridge over Houston so that truckers wouldn’t soil their precious tires on our potholed streets?

    Maybe that’s the direction we should be heading with ideas like this. Instead of underground, they could make a big suspension bridge from Commerce to I-45 instead and put parkspace underneath. These can be made very lightweight and thin now due to technological advances.

  • What’s so technical and expensive about a cut and cover tunnel? Isn’t that the same process they’ve been talking about doing to connect the spur to 59 from downtown? No need to bore through hundreds of feet of rock here. Include a few high capacity pump stations to be sure (the NY subway has hundreds of them–nothing radical here). How much more expensive would a cut and cover tunnel be compared to buying additional land to widen the deck? I’d almost be willing to bet cut and cover would be faster (and possibly less expensive) than building a wider (or double) deck. Even if a cut and cover tunnel would be slightly more expensive, the resulting connectivity, environmental benefits, added neighboring development, and social opportunity FAR out weigh the potential costs. …and oh, the dozens and dozens of new developments would pay millions and millions in new tax revenue every year.

  • Man…I really hate this city.

  • Amsterdam, and most of the Netherlands is a good example. In Amsterdam they have a subway system, and there are a few tunnels that go under the canal from the ijsselmeer to the north sea.

    I don’t think they get as much rain at one given time as we would get during an allison event, but they get more rain over a year, and have more water in the ground, and the land itself is under sea level in a lot of the places before they put in tunnels (Schipol, for instance).

    If they can do it, we should be able to as well, not to mention we have our own tunnels already.

  • @evwytinguwan,

    What do you think we need? What is your alternate proposal?

    Yes, of course this would be expensive. I don’t know anyone who said it wouldn’t be expensive. But it is certainly doable.

    Yes, the Big Dig cost a lot of money, but there were problems there that east downtown Houston does not have:
    -salt for de-icing
    -extensive 100+ year old sewer system
    -it was built on a freakin’ landfill

    The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel added 2 additional lanes requiring two tunnels cost $200 million in the mid-nineties. Even today, the estimated cost for replacing the whole 23 mile bridge/tunnel, including 2 tunnels is less than $1 billion. We’re only talking about less than two miles.

  • anon22 said:
    Does anyone remember the I-69 idea which involved a giant bridge over Houston so that truckers wouldn’t soil their precious tires on our potholed streets?

    No, I can’t remember that. Who said it, the strawman?

  • Looking at the content of your post I can only assume you were being ironic.

    Having a bridge is a great idea, no doubt about it.

  • eiioii,

    This is an old thread by now but wanted to respond to you. I actually think you had one of the better ideas above, if the “problem” we are trying to solve here is better connectivity across the elevated portion of 59 east of downtown, there do need to be more roads connecting both sides. And the convention center itself is a barrier, maybe it could be made more open so people could pass through it in places. The biggest issue to me is making people feel safe downtown and something MUST be done with the homeless population there. That is the main thing that keeps me out of downtown. Lighting could be improved under the freeway, police presence could be beefed up, I think some sort of landscaping or art could be placed under and around the freeway to make it more inviting to pass under. Improve sidewalks and signage throughout the area to make the area look more unified and then people may realize there is something going on along the east side of the freeway. The idea of a long linear park through downtown is a great idea, and that’s what they should be doing along Buffalo Bayou extending all the way from the Theater district to 59 and beyond it into the East End. The improvements they made over a decade ago stop near Wortham theater and nothing has been done since that I have seen, although admittedly it’s very rare I get down there these days. A lot could be done around the McKee bridge and all around that area. I think all of these ideas would cost less than burying the freeway and building a park over it.