Tree Lane Bridge damage

Tree Lane Bridge over Bens Branch Still Standing

The recent drought has reduced the rate of erosion under the Tree Lane/Bens Branch Bridge for now. But with wetter weather expected, we need to accelerate the repair effort. Recent pictures show the desperate need for repairs to the bridge. It’s next to Bear Branch Elementary School where more than 600 students attend grades K-5.

Power of Moving Water

The current state of this bridge and the area around it is a testament to the power of moving water … more than engineers designed the bridge to handle.

Water jetting under the bridge during storms has ripped away great slabs of concrete, eroded side walls, and partially blocked a storm drain outfall.

Condition of Tree Lane Bridge over Bens Branch on 11/24/23

It has also eroded the channel. Rip rap has done little to halt the erosion.

11/24/23. Condition of Tree Lane Bridge over Bens Branch.

Downcutting has exposed utility lines. And stormwater has carried chunks of concrete downstream like toothpicks.

11/24/23. Bens Branch downstream of Tree Lane Bridge.

Before Hurricane Harvey, the tree canopy in this area was so dense, one could barely see Bens Branch from the air. Now, there’s a gaping hole in the landscape caused by the “jetting.”

11/24/23. Downstream erosion of greenbelt caused by jetting water from under bridge.

As more and more water builds up behind the bridge during storms, it causes water to shoot under the bridge with greater pressure and accelerate erosion.

One can’t help but wonder whether the random and cumulative impact of several large storms caused this damage. Whether insufficiently mitigated upstream development helped nature along. Or whether the bridge simply reached the end of its normal life.

The City of Houston attempted to repair this bridge in March 2020. By January of 2023, it was worse than ever. And in June of 2023, I wrote about damage accelerating.

But a prolonged, intense drought last summer put an end to the acceleration. A close comparison of recent photos with those taken six months ago shows that the bridge now looks much like it did last June.

When Will Bridge Be Fixed?

I have learned that both the City of Houston and Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) are studying the bridge. In August, the City even allocated money to fix it. However, HCFCD worried about the impact to its Bens Branch channel. The two entities are now trying to reach a mutually agreeable solution.

Having lived near here for 40 years, one thing is clear to me. We can’t count on drought to prevent more erosion forever.

During El Niño years (like now), much of Texas is cooler and wetter than average. Northern storms generally track farther south, producing more clouds, rain and severe weather, according to the NWS.  

Perhaps we’ll get some good news on Tree Lane bridge repairs or replacement by Christmas. I’ll let you know when we get the engineering report.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/28/24

2282 Days since Hurricane Harvey