THE ODDS ON A PIERCE ELEVATED COMEDOWN Writing in the latest issue of Texas Architect magazine — which is now debuting a redone website with a new web address and a new all-articles-are-now free policy — Ben Koush surveys the prospects for the raised section of I-45 now dividing Midtown from Downtown: “While there have been some plans floated around to convert the decommissioned section of the Pierce Elevated into Houston’s version of the Highline,most people I spoke with didn’t think that was going to happen, simply because TxDOT needs the money it could get from selling that right of way to private developers. Some still hold out hope that at least some of the land or maybe even a small section of the elevated roadway could be made into a public green space.” [Texas Architect; previously on Swamplot] Plan of “currently approved scheme” for I-45 rerouting around downtown, showing possible green space: SWA Group
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:
If you were dazzled by the wide swaths of concrete laneage and complicated color-coded spaghetti interchange entanglements in the TxDOT renderings released last week — but had trouble comprehending the massive scale of the proposed reroute of I-45 around Downtown — you’ll want to try this second go at it. The state transportation agency has now produced a video version of its freeway-rewrapping proposal, complete with tiny little animated cars and trucks moving along 3-D representations of those new wide surfaces. It’s so mesmerizing, many viewers may not even notice what happened to the Pierce Elevated.
There’s so much to say and gawk at in the latest “proposed recommended alternatives” for reshaping I-45 now being shopped around by TxDOT and a host of freeway-happy consultants — enough for a fourth round of public meetings scheduled for tonight and next week, plus hours of extra-curricular speculation. The plans encompass dramatic changes to the North Freeway all the way from Beltway 8 to a new split adjacent to the Third Ward, including eye-opening widenings, all sorts of exciting tunnels and high-flying overpasses, a slew of spaghetti-like interchanges, and — the pièce de résistance — the wholesale give-up of I-45’s current L-shaped wrap around Downtown, including the Pierce Elevated.
These 5 images from our highway overlords’ exciting imagined future sum it up best:
1. The X-ing-out of the Pierce Elevated (diagrammed above). If the elevated portion of I-45 along the path of Pierce St. goes away, how will anyone be able to tell where Downtown ends and Midtown begins? Don’t worry, a few proposals are being shopped around to turn a de-automobiled structure into a High Line—like public park or bikeway. (Though much bigger, ′cuz Houston.)