04/12/16 2:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: TAKE CARE OF THE OTHER BURIALS BEFORE PUTTING I-45 IN THE GROUND I-45 and 59 Proposed Tunnel“I don’t understand why people want to bury the Pierce Elevated. That seems like something to put onto the table after all the murders are solved and money starts to rain down from the sky. Can someone explain this to me? How could it possibly be practical to tear down this road?” [Commenter7, commenting on Defending the Pierce Elevated; The First Toucan Traffic Signal in TexasIllustration: Lulu

03/21/16 2:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THOSE I-45 EXPRESS LANE PLANS ARE CUTE NOW BUT JUST WAIT UNTIL THEY GROW UP pierce-street-45-downtown“Fine with these updates, provided the Pierce [Elevated] still gets torn down. Express lanes might seem like a good idea, but they’ll most likely be hindered by limited ingress/egress and often shunpiked. I’d imagine they’ll also be pretty expensive owing to the proposed modifications to the design. It’s a good design if you’re trying to center transportation around private auto use, but at some point, that can’t be the primary design consideration anymore.” [TMR, commenting on What Happens When You Decide To Redo That Downtown Freeway Plan in Your Spare Time] Photo of Pierce Elevated: Russell Hancock

03/18/16 4:30pm

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DECIDE TO REDO THAT DOWNTOWN FREEWAY PLAN IN YOUR SPARE TIME Purple City Freeway Plan Map captureTory Gattis reports in an update to his weekly column that TxDOT is looking over the alternative Downtown freeway plan put forth by Houston-based blog Purple City last week — to see if it can pull any ideas from it. The report, created by a semi-anonymous Houston-based engineer, includes detailed schematics, along with contextualized critiques of TxDOT’s most recently publicized version of plans to rework the interchanges of I-10, I-45, and 59 around Downtown. The Purple City plan appears to have a lot to offer: It would keep the Pierce Elevated as managed express lanes, while exploring options to make its street level pedestrian- and development-friendly. The alternative plan would require less right-of-way acquisition than TxDOT’s and eliminate left-hand exits. There are also bits about developing a new bus rapid transit line between Bellaire and UH, adding a a parallel bikeway network, and expanding the Downtown street grid. The 13-page report is available here; there’s also a scaled schematic of the entire plan. [Houston Strategies; Purple City; previously on Swamplot] Aerial schematic of (rotated) Downtown freeway alternative proposal: Purple City

03/02/16 5:00pm

Carvana Vending Machine construction site, 10939 Katy Fwy., Memorial, Houston, 77079

Carvana has confirmed that the work going on now at the former Big Tex Tree Nursery lot at 10939 Katy Fwy. is setup for the giant car vending machine referenced in September bid documents labeled with the site’s address. Building permits issued in January were applied for under the name of largely-non-digital used-car chain DriveTime, an investor in the Phoenix-based startup that also allows Carvana to borrow facilities to prepare vehicles for sale.

The new vending machine could be the first in Texas; Carvana opened a vending machine in Nashville last November, and also has a pickup site in Atlanta for those who don’t want to deal with delivery service. A reader sends some fresh shots of the action at the site, as well as a glimpse at a building plan:

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Going Digital on I-10
02/24/16 1:00pm

Update, 3/2: A Carvana spokesperson has confirmed to Swamplot that the company’s first Houston vending machine will be located at 10939 Katy Fwy. This story has been updated.

Online car dealership Carvana appears to have been planning to place a multi-story robotic car delivery system on the I-10-side lot that Big Tex Tree Nursery vacated after the December holidays wrapped up. A reader notes some construction bid documentation dating from September listing a project for the company at the 10939 Katy Fwy. address: The documents show a search for construction contractors for a ‘car vending machine’, scoped to involve multi-level car storage and an automated lift to bring vehicles down to the 1st floor on command.

But it looks like those plans fell through — at least as far as the location on the former Big Tex lot. Permits were issued last month to non-digital car dealer chain DriveTime for construction of a new sales building on the site. DriveTime currently has 4 locations around the Houston area, including one further west on the Katy Fwy. past Highway 6.

Carvana plugged in its first vending machine in Nashville last November, after jumping into the Houston market in October. The above video shows the Tennessee machine in action: cars are shuffled down from their glassy perch after users place a Carvana token into a coin slot.

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Pick Up or Delivery
02/12/16 3:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO THE FUTURE OF DOWNTOWN APPROACHES Cars in TrafficAn alternative that I would heartily recommend would be to work on nearby crosstown routes that may serve to relieve pressure on downtown-area freeways. Those would also be expensive and controversial, but also they are the low-hanging fruit; for example running a toll facility along the north-south Union Pacific ROW. Or completing SH 35 and then creating individually-tolled grade separations from there up Scott St. or Lockwood. OST is a very good candidate for this, as is the N. Shepard/Durham corridor. Do anything possible to speed up thru-traffic along Bayous by removing signalized intersections, especially along the Braeswoods, the T.C. Jesters, and of course Memorial Dr. and Allen Pkwy. These are all things that we would want to have around later on during the course of construction, anyway — but also, decentralized improvements have the advantage of being less subject to economic obsolescence resulting from…say driverless cars and rideshares…which place a big question mark on the near-term utility of mega-projects that required perhaps a decade to finish.” [TheNiche, commenting on TxDOT’s Plans for Freeway Expansion Around and Below the Newly Protected Cheek-Neal Coffee Building] Illustration: Lulu

02/11/16 4:45pm

SOME HELPFUL TIPS FOR PLACING A PARK ON TOP OF AN UNDERGROUND FREEWAY Meanwhile, in Dallas: What goes into the equation to span a park across a multi-lane underground freeway tunnel, as TXDoT’s latest updates on the planned I-45 redo suggest might be possible? Planning for Klyde Warren Park, which covers an underground section of the Woodall Rogers Freeway between I-35 and I-45 at the edge of downtown Dallas, had to take into account everything from the weight of hundreds of thousands of feet of fill, potential damage to structural elements from root systems, anticipated visitor weight, and all the other little projects that private donors wanted to add. Project coordinators also faced mid-project fire code changes, limited freeway closure allowances for construction, and a $16.7-million funding shortfall that was eventually closed by 2009’s Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The park officially opened in 2012 with a concert headlined by Trombone Shorty and the Polyphonic Spree. [D Magazine, Klyde Warren Park]

02/11/16 1:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: MAKING A U-TURN ON REROUTING I-45 I-45 and 59 Proposed Tunnel“I was for this reroute plan early on initially, but as time has gone by I’ve grown against it. This massive freeway is going to ruin an up-and-coming scene happening currently in EaDo, all for the sake of meshing Midtown/Downtown. The best alternative is to tunnel the Pierce underneath its current route. It’s the least destructive and will make all parties happiest I.M.O. And don’t give me this crap excuse that nothing can be underground here because of floods. If everything is supposedly so ‘big’ here in Texas, then please think bigger when it comes to this project.” [Eddie, commenting on TxDOT’s Plans for Freeway Expansion Around and Below the Newly Protected Cheek-Neal Coffee Building] Illustration: Lulu

02/10/16 5:00pm

I-45 Reroute and Greenspace Conceptual Plans from September 2015, Downtown, Houston, 77002

A dotted line runs right along the inside edge of the Cheek-Neal Coffee Company’s former roasting plant at 2017 Preston St. at the corner with St. Emanuel St., which was declared a protected city landmark today after starts to the building’s redevelopment by new owners last year.  The line marks the proposed right-of-way for TxDOT’s plans to reroute I-45 alongside 59 and send the Pierce Elevated out to pasture, as shown in update documents released in September. The 1917 building shows up as a beige box at the corner of Preston and St. Emanuel in the above capture from the project’s interactive online map system, and the seafoam green highlighting to the left indicates the newly planned frontage roads that would run to the west of it.

But the Cheek-Neal building itself actually doesn’t appear to be on the chopping block. The blue highlighting indicating the future path of freeway lanes skirt the western edge of the structure (though they appear to engulf the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen across Congress St. to the north). Moreover, a cross-section through the I-45-59 bundle specifically shows the building in place, with the frontage road to the east and the freeways tucked out of sight below ground level:

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Preservation on Preston
02/02/16 12:00pm

HOUSING, RETAIL, RAMP TO 59 PLANNED FOR I-45 AT CULLEN BLVD. Rendering of the Gateway at Cullen, Cullen Blvd. at I-45, Greater Third Ward, Houston, 77004 New housing geared toward University of Houston and Texas Southern University students is planned near the U of H Main Campus’s main entrance on Cullen Blvd., according to PRNewswire. Plans for the Gateway at Cullen development include 531 beds (in single, double, quadruple, and quintuple groupings), mostly in townhome-esque 2-story configurations, which will contrast with most of Fountain Residential’s previous campus-geared housing projects in the area.  PRNewswire also reports that plans are in the works to replace the nearby Bestway Motor Inn with a new on-ramp to 59, and that the former Fingers Furniture warehouse will be turning into a retail center anchored by a grocery store. [PRNewswire, previously on Swamplot] Rendering: Fountain Residential

01/21/16 11:30am

Big Tex Tree Nursery, 10939 Katy Fwy., Memorial, Houston, 77079

The Memorial Branch of Big Tex Tree Nurseries at 10939 Katy Fwy. is closed for good, and its tree-dealings have moved south to the company’s Sugar Land locale for now. The Christmas trees disappeared after the holiday season, and everything else followed suit: “even the port-a-potty,” writes the reader who sent in photos of the now-bare freeway-side lot at Wycliffe and I-10, just outside Beltway 8. A Big Tex employee says the company is planning to open up another Houston location at some point, but for now the other spots in Sugar Land, Conroe, and Spring will have to do.

The lot is shown below post-faux-forest-departure; meanwhile, someone was out marking up the sidewalk with orange paint last week:

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Land Cleared on I-10
01/20/16 10:15am

Downtown Aquarium Ferris Wheel, 410 Bagby St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

As of rush hour yesterday, a reader tells Swamplot, the Downtown Aquarium’s Ferris wheel at 410 Bagby St. was missing something — namely, the whole wheel bit. Workers were observed dismantling the spokes earlier in the day at the freeway-side restaurant-tainment complex. According to the restaurant’s website, the wheel is out for winter maintenance and won’t be spinning again until March 1st.

From Memorial Dr. headed west under I-45, here’s an evening snapshot of the newly unemployed support posts:

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Bagby at Buffalo Bayou
01/15/16 10:15am

2016 Houston Marathon Closures

For a few early hours this Sunday, the Southwest Freeway will be the only conduit into or out of the box of land framed by Kirby Dr., Montrose Blvd., Bissonnet St. and W. Gray St. (give or take a traffic peninsula leading up to Allen Pkwy., which will also be closed for much of the morning).

The Houston Marathon will launch from 4 corrals leading to Congress Ave. at San Jacinto St., and loop through the city along the route outlined in black above. The Half Marathon route (outlined in yellow) will pant alongside until just before mile 8, when it will skive off north back toward the shared finish line at Discovery Green.

A larger version of the map is show in 2 parts below, complete with start and end times (in red and green respectively) of each mile marker’s street closure:

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The Runaround
01/05/16 12:45pm

Grand Parkway Segments H and I-1

The Army wants you to send the Corps of Engineers your thoughts on Segments H and I-1 of the Grand Parkway — if you can get them in order by February 1st. A public comment period, following some slight route revisions to the 37-miles-plus-a-bit-extra stretch of the in-progress outer-outer loop shown above in red, opened on December 30th. This next addition to Houston’s increasingly elaborate Saturn cosplay will run from 59 between Porter and New Caney through Montgomery, Liberty, and Chambers counties, skirting southeast of Dayton to link up with I-10 near Mont Belvieu.

Want to read up before having your say? The Final Environmental Impact Statement and associated documentation for the two segments, which collectively total 2,829 pages in pdf, have been helpfully split into 2 volumes for your perusing pleasure.

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Eastex Connections
12/11/15 12:30pm

Proposed 610 Express Lanes, West Loop Between 59 and I-10, Houston

Love that rush of vertigo from driving up the entrance ramp at Hidalgo St. onto the southbound West Loop? Freeway thrill-seekers may have some new options in a few years. The above rendering of new elevated express lanes along the West Loop between I-10 and 59 made an appearance at last night’s TxDOT Open House, where plans for the proposed project were presented for public comment. The drawing faces southwest across the intersection of San Felipe and 610 toward the Williams Tower (far left), and shows the lanes flying high over the existing freeway.

TxDOT also showed schematics and cross sections of the proposed additions — which include previously-considered dedicated bus lanes elevated along the path of the feeder road, from just south of I-10 to the junction with Post Oak Blvd.

Drive through the cross sections below, from north to south:

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Up High in Uptown