05/30/17 5:00pm

NICE PARK IF YOU CAN GET TO IT, AND OTHER HOUSTON ENCAPSULATIONS George Ristow’s take for OffCite on the recently unveiled public-private redo of Levy Park? It’s become “one of Houston’s best outdoor public spaces” — as long as you can get yourself there: “The park is tucked away from view, dwarfed by the Kirby Grove building, which undermines its connection [to] Richmond Ave. (bringing visitors from Upper Kirby). Although there are sidewalks immediately surrounding the park, no sidewalk exists on either side of Eastside St. between the park and Richmond. Just one block south of the park, the Southwest Freeway, with a right-of-way as wide as the park itself, walls off West University’s upper reaches as if it were an international border crossing. Consider the Olive Garden restaurant, surrounded by a typical suburban parking lot, built within the same time period as the Levy Park facelift just on the other side of the freeway. Here we have Houston in a nutshell: a state-of-the-art destination public park next to a 19-lane freeway next to a chain restaurant, with no way to walk between them.” [OffCite; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Levy Park Conservancy

05/15/17 2:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: LAY OFF THOSE FLOODED UNDERGROUND FREEWAYS, THEY’RE JUST DOING THEIR JOB “Trenched roads include sumps that are capable of keeping the roadways from flooding from ordinary rain events, but are designed to become flooded in an emergency, acting as additional stormwater detention. Every cubic foot of stormwater that goes in there is a cubic foot that isn’t at the same elevation as city streets, businesses, and houses. It is a feature, not a bug.” [TheNiche, commenting on Watch as Unfunded Parks Appear on Top of Houston Freeways Before Your Very Eyes!]

05/12/17 3:45pm


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’s new 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:

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Bridging the Gaps
05/12/17 1:30pm


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:

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Painted By Number
05/05/17 5:15pm

SOUTHWEST FWY. MIDRISE AUDI SHOWROOM TO GET A DEALERSHIP NEIGHBOR ON THE STAHLMAN LUMBER LAND Another car dealership is planned for the 2.4-acre Stahlman Lumber property right across US 59 from the 7-story Audi dealership (shown here) at the crotch of southbound Shepherd Dr. and Greenbriar St. The former lumber business’s property was sold in January. Dylan Baddour writes in the Chronicle that details on what the new dealership will look like (or what kind of cars will be on offer) are scant for now, though a VP of Sonic Automotive (the same company that planned the Audi midrise and its freeway-eye-level-showroom) says more info on the “big, beautiful” design will be released by the end of the year. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Audi dealership at 2120 Southwest Fwy.: Audi Central Houston

05/05/17 4:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: AN ALTERNATE ROUTE FOR CLEANING UP DOWNTOWN’S IMAGE  “Well, if the problem is defined as ‘Pierce Elevated drivers see blight’ — then one solution is to get rid of the blight; another is to get rid of the Pierce Elevated. It’s probably obvious by now which is more likely to happen.” [_,  commenting on Downtown’s Preeminent Dilapidated Hotel Tower Now Outfitted To Greet I-45ers with New Nametags, Fewer Window Panes] Photo of former Days Inn: Bob Russell

04/07/17 5:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: TEXAS PROBLEMS WITH A TEXAS HYPERLOOP Cow Grazing on Subdivision“Setting aside the pie-in-the-sky[-ness of the] plan, is this track supposed to be underground 0r above ground? Either way, that’s going to cost a lot of money. And, talk about a tempting terrorist target. Underground: risk being buried alive. Above ground: risk being blown up in front of the people on the freeway. And cows. In front of cows.” [Hyperactive Imagination, commenting on Where a Houston Hyperloop Track Could LeadIllustration: Lulu

03/27/17 4:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT IT TAKES TO LIVE NEXT TO THE FAST LANES Freeway Overpass Next to Building“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

03/24/17 10:45am

The Hamilton apartments, Downtown, Houston, 77002

Say, how’d those midrise apartments nestling delicately into the northernmost armpit of the 45-59 exchange turn out, anyway? An accessory to a Midtown drive-by past the scene sends a fresh shot of the finished product and its The Hamilton nametag, taken from the ramp that sends northbound 45-ers onto the potentially doomed Pierce Elevated. Construction started in 2014 and just wrapped in the fall as leasing started up.

Only the top 2 and a half of the complex’s 5 residential stories (never mind the parking podium levels below that) can peek over the railing of the freeway on the southern side of the structure, providing scenic views both to and of any loiterers on the building’s uppermost southern balconies. Spencer Moore of FancyHoustonApartments.com even took the time to share the experience of staring down drivers on the closest ramp:

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Hamilton Now Showing
03/17/17 1:00pm

Partial Outage of Lighting of Bridges over US-59

Lighting of Bridges over US-59Just because the crossings over US-59 were broadcasting football team colors in time for the Super Bowl last month doesn’t mean they were totally finished, Sarah Gandy from Gandy² Lighting Design tells Swamplot this morning. A number of readers have written in since the game to note bits and pieces of the new lighting going dark (as seen in the top shot), blinking, or appearing to be stuck on mismatched colors on occasion; Gandy says that per pre-game plans, there is still some hardware being installed and tuning being done, and that the contractors on the project aren’t scheduled to be totally wrapped up for a few more months.

The forecast for tonight’s display — minus at least 1 bridge which’ll be getting worked on for the evening — is St. Patrick’s Day green; the bridges also spent some of the leadup to Mardi Gras last month enthusiastically flashing passing drivers with traditional bead colors:

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Minor Turnoffs
03/02/17 12:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WAIT, SO ‘KEEP ADDING FREEWAYS’ WAS THE LONG-TERM FIX? loops“The Chronicle article made a fairly big deal out of the following H-GAC quote: ‘Future growth and the resulting travel is expected to surpass our ability to meet regional mobility needs by relying solely on increased roadway capacity.’ I question the significance of this excerpt. Is that not the case at the present time? Has that ever not been the case?” [TheNiche, commenting on Houston #1 in Sublease Office Space; Downtown Getting a WeWork] Illustration: Lulu

02/27/17 5:00pm

TXDOT TO PIERCE ELEVATED: YOUR YEARS ARE NUMBERED, PROBABLY pierce-street-45-downtownPending a vote next month by the Texas Transportation Committee, some early-stage projects connected to TxDOT’s plan to reroute I-45 and the whole downtown freeway exchange system could be getting started a few years sooner than TxDOT officials initially thought they would, Dug Begley writes in the Chronicle. (Those early stages include the reworking of the bottleneck on northbound US-59 where Spur 527 now peels off 2 of the freeway’s lanes just before SH 288 merges into the mix.) The first few projects “are incremental compared to the overall plan,” writes Begley, but “officials say [the projects] are important and send the clear message: The I-45 freeway is relocating and the elevated portion along Pierce will be abandoned and maybe demolished within the next dozen years. . . .Work on revamping the freeway intersections is slated for late 2020 or early 2021.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Pierce Elevated: Russell Hancock

02/02/17 11:45am

Midtown Entry Portal work site, Brazos St. at I-45 and Pierce St., Midtown, Houston, 77003Midtown Entry Portal work site, Brazos St. at I-45 and Pierce St., Midtown, Houston, 77003

Some of the intermediate developmental stages of the pointy new hill between the Pierce Elevated and the old Mr. Peeples spot raised a few questions in the mind of a nearby reader (chief among them: whether the Midtown Redevelopment Authority was constructing an ark.) A few photos from last week (including the top shot above) showed what appear to be wooden forms heralding the pouring of a concrete landscaping wall. A set of new shots from this morning paint a more complete picture of the site, showing a cargo of several new trees now settled in place in the gentle concave curve behind the structured hill’s prow (as seen in the second shot above). Beyond the wall, the other side of the mound appears to have been dotted with ornamental grass:

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Piling It On Off Bagby
02/01/17 3:45pm

Lighting of Bridges over US-59

The newly LED-equipped crossings over US-59 between Shepherd Dr. and Midtown should be getting officially flipped on around 8 pm tomorrow, after a few weeks of on-and-off testing. The 2 Gandys of Gandy² Lighting Design tell Swamplot that the lights will likely run from sunset to sunrise; the tentative plan in the leadup to the Super Bowl is for the bridges to show off the competitors’ team colors. The Patriots’ red-white-and-blue are demoed above, but here are some shots of what else the new fixtures can do, now that all the tuning up is largely finished:

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Getting Turned On
01/31/17 11:30am

7006 I-45 South at Woodridge, Gulfgate, Houston, 77087

7006 I-45 South at Woodridge, Gulfgate, Houston, 77087 Vintage roadside attraction photographer Molly Block sends in the fresh shot above of the empty triple post that previously held up the neon beacon of Gulfgate all-night diner Dot Coffee Shop (along with a previous portrait of the sign itself, circa 2013). Block snapped the picture of the bare poles over the weekend; an employee tells Swamplot this morning that both the Dot sign and the sign for also-Pappas-owned Pappas Bar-B-Q next door had to be temporarily taken down out of the way of that planned reworking of the I-45-Loop-610 intersection. The project will add another pair of direct connectors between the 2 highways, and retool the southbound I-45 frontage road, which runs along the edge of the restaurants’ parking lots (as shown in the TxDOT schematics below):

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Gulfgate Rearrangements