Transportation

TxDOT tweaks $347 million plan for elevating I-10 near Houston’s Heights neighborhood

Based on public feedback in 2022, the state transportation agency made a series of changes to its proposal to raise a nearly 2-mile stretch of freeway out of a floodplain. Residents can again provide comments through Feb. 1.

I-10 Houston Heights
Ashley M. Brown
The Texas Department of Transportation is proposing to elevate Interstate 10 between Heights Boulevard and Interstate 45, along with constructing a detention pond underneath.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is unveiling a series of changes to its $347 million plan to elevate part of Interstate 10 in Houston's Heights area, where it has been prone to flooding, and is asking residents to again chime in on the proposal.

The 1.8-mile stretch of I-10 northwest of downtown, between Interstate 45 and Heights Boulevard to the west, needs to be replaced and redesigned because the roadway is reaching the end of its expected life and also because it has been covered by floodwaters and rendered impassable 10 times during the previous 30 years – including during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 – according to TxDOT. So the highway-building state agency is proposing to raise both the main lanes for I-10 as well as the already-elevated high-occupancy vehicle lanes that feed into and out of downtown, along with constructing a 26-acre detention pond underneath.

Some nearby impacted residents expressed concerns about the project when it first was presented in July 2022 – including about a potential increase in noise pollution as well as encroachment on a wooded area between the freeway and White Oak Bayou to the north – prompting TxDOT to amend its plan. Among the changes are slightly lowering the proposed heights for that part of I-10, using highway railings that are twice as tall to help block noise and relocating the detention pond so it is mostly underneath the freeway and does not impact the existing forested area that accompanies popular hike-and-bike trails.

The changes were unveiled Tuesday evening in a virtual presentation on the TxDOT website. They also will be the focus of an in-person meeting scheduled for 5-7 p.m. Wednesday at TxDOT's Houston office at 7600 Washington Ave.

"The project team considered all comments received and made changes to the proposed design, where feasible, based on this public feedback," TxDOT says in its presentation. "You spoke, and TxDOT listened."

It remains to be seen whether Houstonians, and particularly those who live and work near that part of the freeway, will support the amended plan. TxDOT said it received more than 400 public comments after its first meeting about it in the summer of 2022, with those respondents most concerned about noise, potential impacts on flooding, drainage and existing natural resources, and the necessity of the project.

Kevin Strickland, the president of the Greater Heights Super Neighborhood Council, called the initiative a “huge waste of money.”

“This would fund hundreds of miles of sidewalks and hundreds of bus shelters,” he wrote in an email Tuesday. “Two bayous converge here – it’s suppose to be a wetlands area. Concrete doesn’t fix flooding and TxDOT is not the agency we empower to address flooding.”

Construction is slated to start in early 2025 and will take about four years, according to TxDOT, which says no residents or businesses will be displaced by the project.

In the meantime, residents can submit feedback about the amended proposal through Feb. 1, including by using a comment card that will available at Wednesday's meeting and also can be downloaded on the project webpage. Emailed comments can be sent to HOU-PIOwebmail@txdot.gov, and completed comment cards can be mailed to TxDOT Houston District, Advanced Project Development Director, P.O. Box 1386, Houston, Texas 77251-1386, as long as they are postmarked by Feb. 1.

TxDOT is proposing to raise the elevated HOV lanes by about 10 feet, with a maximum height of about 120 feet above Houston Avenue, according to the revised plan. The main lanes will be significantly raised from the ground level to put them above the 100-year floodplain and will be at heights at or below the existing HOV lanes, with a maximum height of about 70 feet.

"For the majority of the project length, the I-10 main lanes will be lower than originally proposed," TxDOT says in its new presentation.

The revised plan also calls for 6-foot railings on the outsides of both the main lanes and HOV lanes, modeling the part of West Loop 610 that goes through the Bellaire area, for the purpose of reducing noise pollution. TxDOT typically uses 3-foot railings.

In addition to preserving the wooded area between I-10 and White Oak Bayou, TxDOT also plans to add trees and vegetation immediately north of the freeway while constructing a shared-use path for cyclists and pedestrians on the south side of the bayou that connects with Sabine and Mead streets to the south of I-10. There is an existing trail north of the bayou.

TxDOT also pledges to further coordinate with METRO, the region's public transit provider, so the I-10 elevation project will mesh with METRO's plans for a bus rapid transit (BRT) lane in the corridor.

As part of the planned detention pond, in an attempt to further reduce structural flooding risks, TxDOT says it will remove about 18 acres of impervious concrete and replace it with permeable materials.