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):
In the wake of a multi-year legal tiff between TxDOT and an Austin-based real estate company over a freestanding Ron Paul 2012 sign outside of an erotica shop on Hwy. 71, a district appeals court has just struck down central parts of the Texas Highway Beautification Act, Dug Begley reports today. The ruling may have eventual implications for city makeover enthusiast Scenic Houston’s long-term de-billboarding quest, and comes right on the heels of the announcement last week that an additional 13 signs around Houston would be coming down.
B TEAM WANTS TO SEND THE GRAND PARKWAY WHERE THEY WEREN’T ALLOWED TO GO July 11th is the last day to make on-the-record comments about the route the Grand Parkway planners want to take from 288 to I-45 (known as Segment B of the 170-mile outer-outer loop). The finalized study documents published last week mention that proposed right-of-way runs across about 55 acres of wetlands — though that number isn’t precise: the document also mentions that the study authors couldn’t get permission to enter properties along 70 percent of the route, so the group had to use aerial photos to estimate. TxDOT’s desired route appears to hook in with SH288 at the intersection of CR 60 and follow the Brunner Ditch and South Texas Water Company canals southwest most of the way to SH35; from there it would swing back northeast just past Alvin, then eastward to hit I-45 where FM 646 does. [Previously on Swamplot]
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 talk about 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.)
Snickers and awkward guffaws are likely to be heard all the way from the Northside to Afton Oaks next week, once state transportation officials sign off on the addition of another name to the 11.9-mile segment of State Hwy. 59 within Houston’s Inner Loop: Interstate Highway 69. New signs announcing I-69 proudly to the world will subsequently be erected along in-town stretches of the freeway, where they’ll likely be targeted for pointed display in neighborhood bars, strip clubs, or dorm rooms.
Once complete, I-69 will connect the highway’s head at the Canadian border in Port Huron, Michigan, to its tail along the Mexican border, where it will spread into 3 separate paths to Laredo, McAllen, and Brownsville. Planners hope the availability of a smooth, continuous ride from north to south and back again along the eventual federally sanctioned route (sometimes called the NAFTA Superhighway) will stimulate and ease trade among the entwined nations.
Here’s the news that’s “all the rage in Oak Forest,” according to a reader: TxDOT has reopened the segment of the hike-and-bike trail along White Oak Bayou that wends its way between between Ella Blvd. and 34th St. That stretch of asphalt had been closed in December 2011 for construction on the North Loop overpass at T.C. Jester. TxDOT is planning an official celebration of the reopening this coming Saturday, but it’s unclear whether the path, which lines the east side of the bayou, will have to be closed again at some point. “Please note that TxDOT has not completed the reconstruction of the bridges that support the feeder roads across the bayou,” reads a note on the Houston Bikeways Program Facebook page posted this morning. “We hope to get more details shortly.”
The 11-year run is coming to an end: According to a letter signed by franchise operator Charles Gibson and posted in the store’s window, June 14 will be the last day for this Webster Chick-Fil-A. The letter explains that TxDOT has purchased the property with plans to expand I-45. Across that freeway from the Baybrook Mall, this Chick-Fil-A is the northernmost chain of that cluster of ’em accessible via the feeder from Bay Area Blvd.
Note: A TxDOT spokesperson has confirmed that the total cost of the project is $1.3 billion. Story updated below.
This map shows where commuters would get in and out of the toll lanes that TxDOT says it will build in the grassy median of Texas 288 — part of a project it’s proposing to help deal with Med Center congestion and development southwest of town by widening 26 miles of the highway between U.S. 59 and County Road 60. Several new overpasses at intersections and upgraded connections to the Loop and Beltway 8 are also included in the project, which TxDOT says will cost about $1.38 million$1.3 billion. The full extent of the project will be rolled out tonight at a public hearing in Houston and again on Thursday in Pearland.
It appeared as if TxDOT had aimed the 15-mile-long highway segment directly at the burial ground. The highway was suspended, figuratively and physically, like an unintentional monument honoring the burial grounds, like Texas was trying to tell anyone in an airplane or spaceship to LOOK HERE. . . . What I saw were several pieces of plywood, propped up on five-gallon paint buckets, covering what I presume to be the human remains and the tools, buffalo teeth, and other objects found with them. The plywood was weighted down with rocks. . . . To my amateur eyes, the excavation looked makeshift and tenuous, not systematic or professional.
THE MAN WHO RESURRECTED THE GRAND PARKWAY As recently as the beginning of this year, 2 northwestern segments of the proposed fourth ring road around Houston were considered by many to be stalled projects — remnants, even, of an outdated dream to project sprawling, suburban-style development ever outward from the city. But by September, construction on the 15.2-mile Katy Prairie paving program known as Segment E of the Grand Parkway had magically begun; further north, Grand Parkway’s Segment F — the portion that would connect ExxonMobil’s proposed campus in Spring to western suburbs — now appears inevitable. How’d that happen? Reporter Angie Schmitt looks at the role of developer and TxDOT commissioner Ned Holmes in the startling turnaround, including the former banking executive’s remarkable ability to dig up a previously unnoticed $350 million deep in the books of the otherwise cash-starved state agency he oversees — in order to make the Grand Parkway happen. [StreetsBlog; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Rte. 99 ramp construction: Covering Katy
Just how far down the road does the Texas Dept. of Transportation want to take its court battle with a Houston romance novelist, her publisher, and a bookstore? Yesterday a federal judge in Austin denied TxDOT’s request for a restraining order that would have required all 35,000 copies of a new book to be recalled from distributors and destroyed — and be given a new title. Christie Craig’s shirtless-hunk-filled novel, Don’t Mess with Texas, was released on Tuesday. TxDOT complained that the book used the agency’s trademarked slogan for a statewide anti-littering campaign as its title without permission. But under questioning, TxDOT’s attorneys had conceded that none of the trademark registrations for the phrase “Don’t Mess with Texas” specifically covers books. In his decision, Judge Sam Sparks found that point significant, and noted that the costs of recalling the book would likely be very high.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: YOU GO RIGHT AHEAD “When I first visited Texas in 1980, the TxDOT signs said ‘Drive Friendly.’ I thought this was a charming sentiment, so when the opportunity came to move here, I looked forward to ‘driving friendly’ with all the other Texans. Imagine my surprise when I got here, and went looking for those ‘Drive Friendly’ signs, only to find they had been replaced by ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ . . . whoa. OK. My then-new husband told me that just meant that a gunrack gives you the right-of-way.” [Claire de Lune, commenting on Don’t Mess with Don’t Mess with Texas]