Is Houston ready for yet another loop road? Here’s the proposed Green Loop, a 5-mile network of parks, trails, and other public spaces that the neighborhood supergroups behind Plan Downtown imagine ringing in Houston’s bicentennial — if it’s completed by 2036. One of 10 separate proposals in the plan, the city’s littlest loop is meant to take advantage of TxDOT’s proposed rerouting of I-45 to the east side of Downtown — by wrapping the district tightly with a transportation and recreation circuit that could attract adjacent development and help link the city center to adjacent neighborhoods.
Plan Houston’s new report flags ideas and renderings for 3 spots along Downtown’s proposed Emerald Choker: At Buffalo Bayou, on top of I-69 and I-45 once they’re sunk behind the George R. Brown, and on Pierce St. at the Midtown border.
New buildings at the northwest corner of Downtown would face Buffalo Bayou as well as the surrounding streets, lining the waterfront with flood-worthy attractions:
That’s not a retention pond pictured near the center of these aerial shots highlighting the vacant lot at 12906 Memorial Dr. — or at least that wasn’t its original main purpose: It’s the Sam Houston Tollway, shown filled almost to the brim after Hurricane Harvey flooding. “Lot has been cleared and is ready for construction,” declares the listing description for the featured 11,760-sq.-ft. vacant property, one house away from the corner of Memorial and Beltway 8. It’s now marked down to $505,000.
The only photos of the lot included in the listing are drone views that include the adjacent Memorial Dr. underpass, shown in its full-of-water configuration:
COMMENT OF THE DAY: A BETTER IDEA FOR WHAT TO DO WITH THE SPACES UNDER FREEWAYS IN HOUSTON “. . . This gave me an idea. That land under freeways isn’t good for retail or anything inhabited. But it could be a perfect place to dig down and create auxiliary stormwater detention facilities.
Yeah the water will be filthy, like your friends bikes usually are, but floodwater usually is. And as auxiliary detention they would only be used in extreme rainfall events (once or twice a year during so-called ‘hundred year’ storms).” [ZAW, commenting on Comment of the Day Second Runner-Up: Things To Think About Before You Start Planning Under-Freeway Developments] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY SECOND RUNNER-UP: THINGS TO THINK ABOUT BEFORE YOU START PLANNING UNDER-FREEWAY DEVELOPMENTS “One conclusion I’ve made about the U.S., compared to European countries, is that we don’t use space efficiently. We’ve got all these open ditches, grass patches . . . along our roadways. So this Tokyo solution appeals to me.
But while I haven’t traveled extensively, I feel that selling/renting under-highway space to retail smacks of third-world. Would Houston ever go for that?
There is so much filth that washes off roadways and would filter into/onto these shops. A friend has his bike storage cage under the apartment driveway. It’s just a drive! yet the bikes always have a greasy blackness on them. Ever park in an airport garage for more than a couple days? Your car is filthy.
Maybe it’s just me, but I wouldn’t/couldn’t eat a taco made under the Pierce Elevated.” [movocelot, commenting on Midtown Sears Closure Nets Rice 9 Acres near the Wheeler Transit Center] Illustration: Lulu
Here’s evidence that the scheduled reconstruction of the entire West Loop—I-69 interchange just southeast of the Galleria is about to begin. “Crews have been ripping out trees and other vegetation,” reports reader and 610 traveler John Greiner: “Much more than could be argued for improving traffic sight lines.”
COMMENT OF THE DAY: BIG SIGNS FOR BIG TEXAS CORNERS “I wish they’d rethink the billboard laws in Texas. Allow more and bigger billboards. The billboards could be taxed, and the money earmarked to our State Parks — they desperately need it. Scenic routes could be designated in certain places, and billboards banned there.
This would turn the buildings at the intersections of freeways into major advertising opportunities. It wouldn’t matter if the buildings lose money, the giant billboards on the roofs would make whatever profit the owners need. Or they might wind up demolishing the buildings to put billboards up in their place.” [ZAW, commenting on Comment of the Day: The Black Holes Where Freeways Intersect] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE BLACK HOLES WHERE FREEWAYS INTERSECT “Freeway interchange corners like this one seem to be tricky places for anything to last a long time. The long flyover ramps create this weird phenomenon where you have to exit a couple miles back and ride the feeder to that spot. Yet those same ramps make the property very prominently visible to tens of thousands of people each day who pass by overhead in their car. For whatever reason, the properties seem to cycle in and out of use and disuse. The changeover is probably exacerbated by construction freeway construction, widening, and ramp rebuilds.” [Superdave, commenting on The End of the Greenspoint Mall Is Upon Us] Illustration: Lulu
WHAT COULD GO UNDER WHEN I-45 MOVES UNDERGROUND AND EAST OF DOWNTOWN Jeff Balke tallies some of the expected carnage just east of Downtown should TXDoT proceed with its planned rerouting of I-45 from the west side to the east side of Downtown, widening the path of that stretch of Hwy. 59 (aka I-69) to Saint Emanuel St. Among the establishments expecting to have to shut down or relocate as a result of the expansion: the Bayou City Barber Shop, Vietnamese restaurant Huynh, Ahh Coffee, Tout Suite, one building of the Ballpark Lofts, low-income housing development Clayton Homes, a couple of nonprofits, SEARCH Homeless Services’ new building, the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen — plus other assorted bars, barbecue joints, artist spaces, and office space. Among the questions Balke keeps hearing in reference to plans to put this portion of a new I-45-69 combo below grade, possibly (only if separate funding can be found) with a greenspace “cap” planted on top of it: “why [would] a freeway would be constructed lower than street level in a city that floods with seeming regularity, particularly when the highway in question is a hurricane evacuation route? TxDOT is quick to point out that we already have roadways below grade throughout the city that have not suffered major flooding problems since Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, which broke records and is widely considered a 500-year flood. Still, flooding is something the agency appears to have taken seriously. ‘No matter the situation, there’s a potential for flooding,‘ [TXDoT spokesperson] Perez explains, ‘but with anything below grade, additional pumps and detention ponds come into play.’ [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot] Rendering showing possible park behind GRB: HNTB and TxDOT
Among a few Fifth Ward buildings abutting a new railroad underpass scheduled to be installed near the intersection of Lyons Ave. and West St.: The warehouse pictured above at 2305 Lyons Ave., graced by a Wiley Robertson mural. The Gulf Coast Rail District plans to eliminate the at-grade railroad crossing west of I-69 and directly to the east of that corner by routing Lyons Ave. under the tracks. According to the district, 30 trains a day currently cross Lyons Ave. — on 3 separate sets of tracks. North of Lyons, 3 additional at-grade crossings will be eliminated by closing down West St. entirely from a little south of Lyons to a little south of Brooks St.
The earliest possible start date for the project, which would cost an estimated $28.5 million and take approximately 2 years to complete, is listed as the fall of 2020. At a meeting last night at the Saint Arnold Brewery, which is just west of the West St. intersection, the district and TXDOT showed these images of a widened Lyons Ave. with dual 12-ft.-wide car lanes as well as bike lanes and sidewalks passing under the HB&T rail line:
If you’re compiling a list of best photo spots for during or after another one of Houston’s every-dozen-years-or-so never-seen-anything-like-it flooding events, you’ll probably want to make room on it for the stretch of I-45 North between the N. Main St. and Patton St. exits. Back in 2001, images of cars and trucks floating along an insta-lake in this same spot made national news. And yesterday, pix of the automotive flotilla pictured above found their way to Facebook feeds and front pages around the globe.
But the low spot just north of Downtown wedged between Brooke Smith and the Near Northside was also a tough place to be when the water started rising, reports the Chronicle‘s Dane Schiller. Drivers found an early morning traffic jam in the rain changed nature quickly: “A surge was coming at them, squeezed by high barrier walls into the confines of the interstate. In less than 15 minutes, there was nothing to do but abandon ship.”
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.
DRIVING BELTWAY 8, IN ORDER TO READ HOUSTON IN THE ORIGINAL “To get a full sense of the place,” writes Cort McMurray, every Houstonian should travel Beltway 8’s full 83-mile circuit. Until you can find the time, though, his tour narrative may have to suffice: “Keep going. You’re not even halfway around. There are more factories, and more office buildings, more new construction, more traffic. There’s a steak house, built to look like Sam Houston’s Huntsville home, evidence that if you give a Houstonian a little time and a little encouragement and the right financing, a Houstonian will create something ridiculous, and the horse track, where nothing ever appears to be happening. Near Bush Intercontinental, you’ll endure Roadwork Purgatory: orange cones and narrowed lanes and blinking signs, and no evidence of any work being done. It’s been that way for 19 years.
East of the airport, the Beltway crosses vast swaths of tract homes and the strip centers and megachurches that inevitably follow them, funneling you toward the Jesse Jones Bridge, standing like the skeleton of some humongous sauropod, head forever bent to the Ship Channel, nosing about for some seaweed.” [OffCite] Photo of Steamboat House Steakhouse: Tomball Sesquicentennial Promenaders