Brace yourselves. If you think traffic in Houston is bad, then wait to see you the proposed Texas Department of Transportation (“TxDOT”) plan that would move, sink, and reroute I-45 from the Pierce Elevated in downtown.
If approved, the TxDOT “North Houston Highway Improvement Project” would change the freeway infrastructure landscape for I-45 around downtown. Although the project encompasses around 16 miles of changes, it is the four miles around downtown that are receiving the most attention because it calls for abandoning the Pierce Elevated.
The Pierce Elevated is my favorite part to drive on I-45 because it feels like you are on a jet ski or boat. This stretch of I-45 will be realigned to be parallel with I-10 around the Northside of Downtown. It will then shift and sink to run parallel to US 59 where it will reconnect with the existing I-45 junction where SH 288/US 59 meet. Danny Perez of TxDOT noted that the Pierce Elevated acts as a “barrier” between Downtown and Midtown. As a result of rerouting I-45, TxDOT hopes to create continuity across the central business district much like one experiences in New York City.
But, what will happen to the lanes that used to go through the Pierce Elevated? TxDOT has proposed to turn that portion of I-45 into a Parkway similar to how Spur 527 feeds into Midtown from US 69. There has already been a push to convert the Pierce Elevated into a Sky Park similar to the High Line in New York City. If all this sounds complicated, which it should upon first reading, then I recommend watching the animated video rendering to wrap your head around this massive project.
You might have noticed the purple “Managed Lanes” on I-45; this is TxDOT code word for toll roads. TxDOT has not confirmed if the managed lanes will be purely toll roads or adopt a hybrid setup of both a toll road and High Occupancy Vehicle (“HOV”) lane similar to what is employed on I-10 once you leave the 610 Loop. The newly-developed Clayton Homes nestled between the Buffalo Bayou and US 59 will create some potential Right-of-Way (“ROW”) issues for this project. Funding has not been secured and will not be secured until TxDOT completes the Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) process. TxDOT anticipates to finish the EIS process around 2017 and expects the improvement project to take anywhere from five to ten years to complete.
Concerned citizens and civic association representatives have formed to create the I-45 Coalition to address issues related to new potential construction on Interstate 45. TxDOT has created a website for the North Houston Highway Improvement Project where Houstonians can learn more about the project or submit a comment. Per the request of elected officials, the comment period has been extended to May 31, 2015.
What are your thoughts? Are you excited? Are you For the Project? Against? What will happen to the land where the Pierce Elevated sits? Will it be sold to private developers? Will the City of Houston retain ownership? There are many questions still looming regarding this project. Only time will tell if Houstonians will embrace the change.