Tag Archive for: City of Houston

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

Comcast Contractors Force Traffic Across Residents’ Lawns

Today, Comcast contractors occupied both sides of the street in front of my house. This blocked traffic, forcing motorists to drive onto my lawn and my neighbor’s lawn to get around them.

There were no traffic control signs. No warnings. No flag men. No supervisors. No one directing traffic. In fact, no one from the entire crew even seemed to be around … until I started taking pictures. Then I was swarmed.

Pictures of Incident Occurring around 11AM Today

Here’s what I found at the end of my driveway.

No room to park. No problem. New York chutzpah comes to Houston.

As we teach kids in driver’s ed, this is called “driving on the wrong side of the road.”

Police give tickets for it. It illustrates a cavalier attitude toward public safety. Not to mention contempt for the people Comcast hopes will someday buy its services.

But I guess Comcast doesn’t care. They had no supervisors onsite. If you don’t see it, you don’t have to report it.

The trailer contained pipe for the hydro-excavation truck in the background.
Opposite angle shows a second hydro-excavation truck. Noise from these trucks reached 96 decibels. Exposure to that level for more than 30 minutes is considered dangerous and can cause hearing loss.
When I asked the lady in this car not to drive on my lawn, she turned around. But other drivers just zoomed around me in frustration without stopping.

In fairness, when I told the Comcast contractors to move their trucks, they did. But it’s sad that I should have had to tell them. They had no name badges, no ID and offered no apology.

Had I not questioned the employees, I never would have known from the logos on their trucks that they were affiliated with Comcast.

The subcontractor blocking both sides of the street.

City Still Says It has Received No Comcast Complaints

Ironically, while I was downloading the images from my Nikon, I got an email from Jessica Beemer, Dave Martin’s Chief of Staff, saying yet again that the City had received NO COMPLAINTS re: Comcast. I responded, “Let me be the first then.”

Please follow these procedures if you see concerning behavior or experience damage from Comcast. The house you save could be your own. I reported this incident to multiple people in multiple places: the City, Comcast, Aspen, and Aspen’s parent Company.

No Warning Within 72-Hours

Our only warning that Team Comcast would be in the neighborhood was a door hanger delivered months ago. Those warnings are supposed to be within 72 hours.

Attention Comcast Shareholders

But in this case, Comcast was a loser, too. My neighbor was hosting a luncheon today for 25 people. Oops. Why alienate one potential customer when you can alienate 25 at once?

The neighbor and I haven’t been able to see if someone broke our irrigation systems yet because we’re still under a no watering ban due to the drought. But if they did break them, I think I’ll get angry.

Seriously though, what’s a sprinkler head and some ruts in your lawn compared to some of the horror stories I’ve heard. I talked to several people in Bear Branch with more than a quarter million dollars worth of sewer damage to their homes.

Another lady had her electricity cut. The resulting power surge knocked out a new heating/ac system, a computer, and a double oven. It also fried the circuits in her home.

The Comcast contractor said not to file a claim, that they would pay for it. A month later, they changed their minds and told her to file a claim with her own insurance company. Her insurance company asked, “Why did you wait a month?” Her insurance company also said it could take 1-2 years to work this out. Meanwhile, she’s paying CenterPoint $500 per month to run a temporary electric line to her house.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/3/2023

2257 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Woodridge Village Excavation Slows

During September, Sprint Sand & Clay excavated another 5,698 cubic yards of material from Woodridge Village, down slightly from the previous month. However, that brought the total to date up to 150,724 cubic yards – a nice milestone.

Attempted development of the property contributed to the flooding of neighboring properties twice in 2019 during May and September.

Background of Project

Sprint’s excavation will create a sixth stormwater detention basin on the former Perry Homes property purchased by Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) and the City of Houston in 2021.

Sprint began excavation in January of 2022 under an Excavation and Removal Contract (E&R). The E&R contract gives Sprint the right to remove up to 500,000 cubic yards of material for just $1,000. Sprint then makes its money back by selling the dirt at market rates.

Where Things Stand

To date, here’s where things stand in relation to possible goals:

Acre Feet of Stormwater Detention% of Atlas-14 Requirement% of Ultimate
Site Had When Purchased from Perry Homes27170%47%
Has as of 10/3/23364.494.6%62.8%
Atlas 14 Requires385100%66%
If Sprint Excavates All 500K Cubic Yards580150%100%
As of 10/3/23

The rate of excavation slowed in September compared to August. During August Sprint excavated 10,353 cubic yards – almost twice as much.

E&R contracts often fluctuate like this depending on home- and road-building activity nearby. Regardless, Sprint still exceeded its contract’s monthly minimum of 5,000 cubic yards.

Before/After Pictures For September

The first two photos below show the extent of excavation at the beginning and end of September.

Woodridge Village E&R activity
Looking NE from SW Corner. Beginning of September.
End of September 2023

I see no dramatic changes. They did, however, nibble away at the edges in the top left corner, where the tire tracks lead to. Here’s a closeup of that area.

NW limit of excavation as of September 30, 2023
Reverse angle looking SW. Notice removal of surface layer in the lower right.
Entry view, 9/30/23

Rain always slows construction activity and it may have played a role here. The pool of water above was one third this size at the start of the month.

5,698 cubic yards of material for September equals 3.5 acre feet. At that rate, the detention basin will not reach Atlas-14 requirements for another 5-6 months. It appears unlikely at this point that Sprint will meet Atlas-14 requirements by the end of the year – unless Sprint really sprints.

No Engineering Report Yet

At the start of the project, HCFCD planned to go beyond Atlas 14 to accommodate possible future increases in rainfall requirements and upstream growth. That would provide an extra margin of safety for people in the area.

HCFCD still has not released the final engineering report yet for Woodridge Village and Taylor Gully. So we don’t know yet how large this detention basin will be, i.e., beyond Atlas 14.

That final engineering report will also determine the final shape of the basin and its connectivity to other drainage on the site.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/3/23

2226 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Contractors Clearing South Side of Northpark Entry at US59

October 2, 2023 – Contractors finished clearing the north side of Kingwood’s Northpark entry last week. Now they have shifted their focus to the south side to make room for two stormwater retention basins that will double as decorative lakes.

TxDoT requires the basins to catch extra runoff caused by widening of the road.

Photos Show Progress of Northpark Entry Construction

The focus of the project’s landscape architects now is saving as many trees as possible. I took the photos below with one exception on 9/30/23.

Looking west. Trees remaining on the south (left) side of Northpark have been marked for transplantation. Excavation of pond on north (right) side should begin in mid-October.

In the photo below, note the rings around the remaining trees on the south side.

Those rings help retain water and nutrients being given to the trees to enhance their chances of surviving transplantation.
Looking E. Note how row of trees on the left screen the entry from the busy shopping center behind them. Also notice how the right side does not have a similar row of trees.

Landscape architects will relocate most of the remaining trees on the right/south side of Northpark to create a backdrop for the new pond. Some trees will remain in front of the pond. See the latest plan below.

Northpark entry plan

Handling Overflow from Ponds during Heavy Rains

To avoid flooding the Northpark entry area, contractors will channel overflow from the ponds west to Bens Branch and the Kingwood Diversion Ditch.

Looking east. Note clearing on the left/north side of Northpark to lay the new stormwater line that will carry overflow from the ponds to the east.
Looking west toward 59. The stormwater line will go behind Public Storage (upper left) and carry water toward the Kingwood Diversion Ditch and Bens Branch.
Northpark Drive expansion;
Route for excess water. Circle shows location of photo above this one.

Status from Diversion Ditch to 494

Looking east from Russell-Palmer to Kingwood Diversion Ditch. Virtually all of the ditch has been replaced by box culvert.
A coffer dam remains around an out-of-place water line that needs to be lowered.

Re-engineering of the water line has begun in concert with the City of Houston.

Farther east where culverts have already been placed, you can start to see how Northpark will be widened inward toward the center to create two extra lanes of traffic.
Looking west from Russell-Palmer, contractors are still waiting for Centerpoint to move a gas line out of the median to the side of the road.

Until Centerpoint moves that gas line, contractors will focus on other parts of the project, such as the entry.

Saving Money While Saving Trees

At their monthly meeting last Thursday, Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority/TIRZ board members discussed the escalating cost of relocating trees. Costs increased as trees grew between the original estimate and today.

After the meeting, Ralph De Leon, the project manager, met with contractors, the landscape architect and project designer. They developed a new plan to help hold down costs.

Previously, some trees were to be moved twice, first to a temporary holding location on the north side of Northpark and then back to their final spot on the south side. Why? Contractors needed to build up land behind the pond on the south side of Northpark before transplanting the trees.

The new plan calls for building up the land before moving ANY trees. That will eliminate the cost of the double move. It will also reduce traffic disruption. Tree moving equipment will no longer have to cross Northpark.

Main Goals of Northpark Project

Overall, the main goals of the Northpark project include:

  • Widening the road to reduce delays caused by increased traffic
  • Building a bridge over the UP railroad tracks to eliminate traffic blockages
  • Creating a reliable, all-weather evacuation route for Kingwood

For More Information

For previous posts about Northpark construction, see the following:

Also visit the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority/TIRZ 10 Project pages at https://lakehoustonra.com.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/2/23

2225 Days since Hurricane Harvey

New Design for Northpark Entry, Construction Schedule Update

Harper Brothers Construction has encountered another unexpected problem in the Northpark Drive expansion project. While attempting to place 5’x7′ culvert in the median, it uncovered a water line much closer to the surface than it should have been. While developing a solution with the City of Houston, crews will continue to focus on other areas of the project so as not to create excessive delays.

Those areas include:

  • A new water main near 494 and the UP railroad tracks
  • Clearing land for the new Northpark entry to Kingwood at 59.

For background detail and photos, see below.

Pics of Water-Line Conflict

This week, Harper Brothers discovered a water main where it should not have been. The contractor proposed water-line workarounds to the City, but the City has not yet agreed to a solution. The issue has to do with a water main running under Northpark to the new Parkwood Baptist Church east of Russell-Palmer. See the pictures below, courtesy of the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority (LHRA).

Surprise water line under Northpark
Workers discover a surprise. Water line under Northpark not where it was supposed to be.
Surprise water line under Northpark
Water line should have been buried several feet deeper.
Surprise water line under Northpark
One workaround could require burying a parallel line deep enough to allow placement of culvert over the top of it.

Harper Brothers Construction suggested another workaround – splicing in a U-shaped pipe that would leave enough room for the culvert it is burying in the median.

But until the City and LHRA agree on a solution Harper Brothers may have to skip past the obstruction and then go back at a later date to fill in the gap.

Second New Water Main Farther West

In the meantime, crews have already started prepping for placement of another water line that parallels Northpark closer to Loop 494. See picture below near Public Storage.

Looking SE. Note area being cleared in foreground for new water main and feeder roads next to bridge.

While Northpark will expand inward for most of its length, the feeder road next to the new bridge over 494 and the railroad tracks will expand outward. And because the City doesn’t like to run water mains under a roadway, contractors must also relocate this water main. It’s a much bigger job because it feeds numerous businesses, not just one church.

LHRA actually had to purchase additional land for this portion of the project – enough to accommodate a two-lane feeder road on each side of the bridge.

In the photo above, you can see Harper Brothers prepping land for the new water main and feeder lanes.

Plans for New Entry

The contractor will also soon start clearing the triangular area on the north side of Northpark at 59. Note construction materials stockpiled in the foreground of the photo below. Most, but not all of this area, will become a decorative pond that’s actually a stormwater detention basin in disguise. The pond will hold approximately 11 acre feet of stormwater in the space between the top of the permanent water level and ground level.

A second pond on the south side of Northpark will provide a similar amount of stormwater storage to compensate for the increase in impervious cover caused by road widening.

But not all the trees will go away. TxDoT requires that any trees removed must be replaced with trees of an identical diameter.

Site of first detention pond. Pond will be framed by trees that remain between Northpark and shopping center on right.
Some trees will be relocated to the open area currently behind the grove.

Other trees will be relocated nearby, for instance, around the south pond which is more sparsely populated with trees.

South pond will have more room for transplanted trees around it.

In addition, the ponds when complete will have sidewalks and landscaping around them. TxDoT, LHRA and the Kingwood Service Association worked collaboratively on the designs for two years. A well will serve the area and feed an irrigation system to help ensure new plantings survive and thrive.

Here’s what the finished ponds and landscaping should look like.

North pond (the first) shown on the left.

For the full entry landscaping plans, click here.

To see a video rendering of the ponds, click here and then click on the video in the lower right.

Clearing was to have begun on Tuesday morning after Labor Day. However, that may be delayed now. Late on Friday afternoon several logistical issues involved with relocating the trees became apparent.

CenterPoint Promises to Stake Out Problems Week of 9/3/23

Last week, we talked about 11 conflicts with CenterPoint along the Northpark Drive expansion project. CenterPoint has promised LHRA that it will send crews to “stake out” the problems next week. That is the first step in resolving conflicts.

Some of the CenterPoint conflicts that have culvert placement stalled.

It’s always something in construction! Stay tuned for next week’s exciting episode of “As Northpark Expands.”

For a look ahead at the next three weeks of construction activity, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/2/23

2195 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 10 days before the peak of hurricane season

Heat Records and Water-Use Restrictions

This is a bit off topic for a flood blog, but it affects tens of thousands of readers. Late yesterday, after multiple heat records were broken across the region, the City of Houston announced water-use restrictions going into effect Sunday, August 27, 2023. Let me address the heat first, water restrictions second. Then I’ll discuss rain chances and the tropics.

Heat Records Shattered Across Houston Region

Yesterday, the Houston area experienced another unrelenting afternoon of scorching temperatures. Many areas reached the mid- to upper-100’s with a few areas into the low 110’s.

Afternoon daily temperature records were shattered at many sites – many by several degrees.

Jeff Lindner, Harris County Meteorologist

High Temperatures on Thursday, 8/24/23

BUSH IAH: 109 (tied the all time record high, broke daily record high of 105 from 1980)

Huntsville: 111 (shattered record high of 102 from 2011…daily record high broken by 9 degrees)

College Station: 111 (broke record high of 107 from 2010)

Hobby: 107 (broke record high of 100 from 1980)

Conroe: 108 (broke record high of 105 from 1922…101 year old record)

Brenham: 107 (broke record high of 106 from 1980)

Sugar Land: 107 (broke record high of 101 from 2011)

Wharton: 106 (shattered the record high of 99 from 1911…112 year old record)

Cleveland: 109 (broke record high of 104 from 1980)

Crockett: 109 (broke record high of 106 from 2011)

CoH Water-Use Restrictions

According to a City of Houston press release, Houston has entered Stage Two of the City’s Drought Contingency Plan. Due to intense heat and a significant drop in annual rainfall. Effective August 27, 2023, mandatory water-use restrictions will go into effect. They apply to the entire City:

  • Limit outdoor watering to twice a week between the hours of 7PM and 5AM
  • Sundays and Thursdays for single-family residential customers with even-numbered addresses
  • Saturdays and Wednesdays for single-family residential customers with odd-numbered addresses
  • Tuesdays and Fridays for all other customers
  • Any outdoor water use that results in city water leaving your property (i.e., draining onto adjacent property, or streets or gutters) is unlawful.

Violations of watering times will get you a written warning for the first violation. Any subsequent violations are subject to a fine up to $2,000 for each occurrence; see Section 54.001 of the Texas Local Government Code.

Easy Ways to Conserve Water

Here are some easy ways to conserve water:

  • Check and repair water leaks, including dripping faucets and running toilets.
  • Check sprinkler heads to make sure water is not spraying into the street or directly into a storm drain and/or gutters.
  • Avoid washing sidewalks, patio furniture or cars. If you must wash your car, use a car wash. Most car washes use recycled water.
  • Run dishwashers and clothes washers only when full.
  • Take shorter showers.
  • Install a rain barrel and use it for outdoor watering.
  • Turn off the water when you are not using it (e.g., while brushing teeth or shaving).

For more water-saving tips, visit www.givewaterabreak.org.  

Rain Chances

The high-pressure ridge parked over us for the last two months is giving a little bit of ground. Yesterday, thunderstorms finally overcame subsidence in the super-heated afternoon air mass. The gage at the West Lake Houston Parkway bridge recorded 0.44 inches of rain. Despite several downed trees, people cheered because of our deep drought.

According to Jeff Lindner, Harris County Meteorologist, as high pressure moves west, weak disturbances may approach the area from the east and northeast.

Combined with high temperatures in the low- to mid-100’s, scattered thunderstorms will be possible.

Wildfire Risk Remains

Thunderstorms come with the threat for lightning-induced wildfires. One such fire started yesterday in the Humble area. Lightning strikes will be possible each day and strong gusty winds can quickly fan fires.

Additionally, wind direction and speeds can quickly change near and around thunderstorms creating very hazardous conditions for ground crews. Multiple fires caused by a single thunderstorm can quickly overwhelm local resources. So use extra caution. Burn bans remain in effect.

Western Caribbean Sea

An area of low pressure has crossed Central America into the western Caribbean Sea. It should move north toward Florida. As of this morning, the National Hurricane Center gave it a 70% chance of formation during the next 7 days.

August 25, 2023 8AM update from NHC

However, it remains unclear where exactly any surface low will form and how it may interact with the surrounding landmasses. Additionally, there may be wind shear to contend with in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico. At this time, models predict varying intensity as the storm moves north.

Currently, this system does not pose a threat to Texas. But watch for winds that could enhance our local fire weather.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/25/2023 based on information from Jeff Lindner, Harris County Meteorologist, and City of Houston

2187 Days since Hurricane Harvey

CoH Removing Sediment under Northpark Bridges, More Good News on Northpark Expansion

To help accommodate the expansion of Northpark Drive and the Kingwood Diversion Ditch, City of Houston (CoH) contractors are cleaning sediment from under the Northpark Bridges. This effort will eliminate a constriction in the Diversion Ditch that backed stormwater up, forcing it into Bens Branch, flooding people, businesses and schools downstream.

Separately, Week 2 of Northpark Drive expansion has seen other breakthroughs farther west.

  • Cleaning and expansion of the median ditch have reached almost to the UnionPacific (UP) railroad tracks that parallel Loop 494.
  • CoH and UP are also reaching agreements – at long last – that will let contractors move forward with construction at a much faster rate.

See more details and photos below.

Photos of Bridge Clean-out Taken 8/8/23

Looking east toward Woodland Hills at sediment removal project under Northpark bridges.
Side view looking SE toward North Woodland Hills shows more of work under bridge.
Looking west across Diversion Ditch and sediment removal project toward Russell Palmer. Photo by Father TJ Dolce of St. Martha Catholic Church.

8/8/23 Photos of Northpark Ditch Clean-out

Looking East from Northpark median at Public Storage. Note Duncan Donuts on left.
Reverse angle looking West shows remaining distance to UP tracks and Loop 494 at intersection.

The ditch clean-out will make room for 5′ x 7′ box culverts like those you see below. Workers have now buried all of the round concrete pipe stockpiled last week. They have also cut through concrete in the crossover between the fireworks stand and Flowers of Kingwood.

Steel cofferdam prevents wall collapse, protects workers in ditch.

The “step-down” from the box culverts to the round concrete pipe (now buried) will provide in-line stormwater detention during heavy rains that helps reduce flood potential in the receiving ditch, i.e., the Diversion Ditch.

UP and CoH Near Agreement on Access Rights

According to Ralph De Leon, project manager for the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority and TIRZ 10, CoH and UP have come to terms on one agreement and are close to finalizing a second.

The first covers covers maintenance and construction. It will let contractors drill under the railroad tracks to address utility issues. Cost: $2.2 million.

The second agreement covers vertical and horizontal easements. Cost: under $200 thousand. The easements will let contractors build a bridge and access roads over the tracks.

However, it will also require the TIRZ to purchase two additional tracts of land north and south of Northpark at the railroad tracks.

Resident Reacts to Sediment Removal in Diversion Ditch

Flood activist and Kingwood resident Chris Bloch lauded the CoH sediment removal under the Northpark Bridge. He called it, “Great news for Kingwood!” 

“Removal of the sediment under the Northpark bridges will substantially recover conveyance capacity of the Diversion Ditch,” he added. “When the water level in the Diversion Ditch touches the bottom of the Northpark bridges, the bridge acts as a dam and water levels upstream rise rapidly.”  That forces water into Bens Branch, threatening homes and businesses on either side of it.

Remembering Stan Sarman

Bloch worked with former TIRZ president Stan Sarman, who was also an engineer, to approach Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin and CoH about the need for this project. They agreed that sediment removal from the Diversion Ditch under the Northpark Bridges would help reduce flood risk in Woodland Hills, Hunters Ridge, Bear Branch and Kings Forest.  

Martin’s office arranged for the purchase order to get this project done.

Bloch took video during Imelda and shared it with Sarman, who had the original drawings of the bridge and channel from 1972. He is quick to give credit to Sarman who has since passed away. “I am not sure most Kingwood residents appreciate all Sarman did for Kingwood,” said Bloch.

This project and the repair of the channel under the Tree Lane Bridge are valued at nearly $1 million dollars.

Up Next

The LHRA/TIRZ are now providing weekly updates of construction activity so you can see what’s coming next.

Come back soon for more updates. The Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority will hold a public board meeting Thursday at 8 a.m. at the Kingwood Community Center to discuss this and other business.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/9/2023

2171 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Northpark Drive Expansion Begins in Earnest

Note: This story was updated on 7/26/23 to include more information about phasing of the Northpark Drive expansion project.

After what turned out to be a ceremonial groundbreaking on 4/13/23, the Northpark Drive expansion project appears to have started in earnest on 7/25/2023. Northpark is a vital evacuation route for tens of thousands of Kingwood and Porter residents during floods.

Cones and Culvert Line Northpark Center Ditch

Traffic cones line the center ditch between Russell-Palmer and the Kingwood Diversion Ditch.

Looking west toward Russell-Palmer Road

Contractors have also stacked what looks like six-foot reinforced-concrete pipe on the edge of the Northpark Drive ditch where it enters the Kingwood Diversion Ditch.

Looking SE across Northpark from Fireworks Stand parking lot to Flowers of Kingwood.

They have also begun excavating the Northpark center ditch.

Looking E to Kingwood and City Limit (Green sign).

Project Partners

Project partners include:

  • Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority
  • City of Houston District E
  • Montgomery County Precinct 4
  • Texas Dept. of Transportation
  • Harris County Flood Control

Plan Vs. Execution

In general, the project partners plan to widen Northpark by a lane in each direction (toward the middle). But instead of taking land and parking from merchants, the project partners plan to replace the center ditch with culvert then pave over it.

Early plans indicated that the area between US59 and Russell-Palmer would be Phase One and that Russell-Palmer to the Diversion Ditch and eventually beyond Woodland Hills would follow.

However, Ralph Deleon, a TIRZ engineer/project manager indicated that contractors are taking pieces of the phases out of order. Why? Contractors are ready to go. But not all the right-of-way and utility issues have been resolved.

So they’re approaching drainage first and starting at the downstream end – a best practice. In coming days, we should see additional activity on other portions of Northpark Drive. But Deleon emphasized that the public should have two lanes of traffic in both directions at all times.

The Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority (TIRZ 10) website contains a number of videos and construction docs that detail the ultimate vision for the project as well as next steps.

Will Culvert Convey as Much as Ditch?

The first thing that popped into my mind when I looked at the size of the culvert and the size of the ditch was that the culvert could not possibly convey all the water that the ditch used to.

Google Earth shows width of v-shaped ditch is 50 feet. Circular pipe is 6 feet.

Then I read this letter from Harris County Flood Control to the engineering company. It states, “The proposed improvement includes enlarging the proposed storm sewer system to provide inline detention and modeling the restrictors needed to meet allowable outflow requirements for both outfalls.”

The pipes shown above would definitely act as restrictors. I sure hope they don’t back water up into the street.

Having worked near Northpark for 22 years, I’ve seen the ditch overflow on multiple occasions. I’ve seen cars plunge to the bottom, emergency rescues, and stalled vehicles.

Here is the engineering company’s drainage impact analysis. And this presentation provides a project overview for the pre–bid conference for the western portion of the project. It shows a 32-month construction schedule for the western portion alone – even with a six day work week.

More Info to Follow

The TIRZ docs for the eastern portion of the project (Russell-Palmer to Diversion Ditch, Woodland Hills and beyond) are less comprehensive.

I’m meeting with the engineers and contractors tomorrow to learn more. Check back for more news and analysis.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/25/2023 and updated on 7/26/23

2156 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Would Livable Places Initiative Really Make Housing More Affordable?

Third in a Series on the City of Houston Planning Commission’s Livable Places Initiative

In the first two posts in this series, I discussed how the Houston Planning Commission’s Livable Places Initiative had the potential to:

Despite well intentioned efforts to help limit the growth of impervious cover, the Commission has not conducted a flood study showing the cumulative impact of its recommendations.

Nor does it have any concrete recommendations guaranteed to make housing more affordable – its primary goal.

Effects on Affordability Uncertain

Most of the ordinance changes would let people build more housing in any given area. Changes would allow:

  • More compact development and small-scale, multi-unit housing
  • On less land
  • With fewer parking spots
  • And with narrower driveways. 
Housing variations encouraged by Livable Places increase housing density and impervious cover.

Those recommendations have the potential to reduce redevelopment costs and therefore exert downward pressure on housing prices. Land represents a significant percentage of those housing prices. Also, it takes less labor and fewer materials to build a 1,000 square-foot home than it does a 2,000 square-foot home. But…

How much of those savings will buyers receive and how much will developers pocket? 

Higher density also lets more people share the cost of infrastructure, such as streets and storm sewers. That theoretically exerts downward pressure on prices, too.

But higher runoff associated with more impervious cover could exceed the capacity of those storm drains and ditches. And that could lead to increases in drainage fees.

During the public comment period after the last Planning Commission meeting, one individual referenced outrageous prices for densely packed, small homes in the Heights (see below). He made the point that nothing in the regulations guarantees more affordable housing.

Many of the targeted inner-city neighborhoods already complain about flooding and blame it on historical discrimination. Any increase in impervious cover could make such neighborhoods less livable, not more.

Neither do new regulations do anything to discourage people from subdividing flood-prone lots near channels or streams. That could make future buyouts even more expensive. We’ve already spent billions of dollars mitigating flooding in these areas.

Houston Already Has More Affordable Homes and People Still Move Out

The Planning Commission is filled with bright, intelligent, hard-working people. But they have limited tools at their disposal. While they may be able to make housing more affordable, they have no tools to fight crime, flooding, or failing schools.

Houston already has some of the most affordable housing in the region. Yet people still move out of the City to buy higher priced homes. 

While population in the region is increasing, population in the City of Houston has decreased since the 2020 census. 

Inverted Housing Prices, Demand

Usually, higher prices limit demand and lower prices increase it. But that isn’t happening in the Houston region.

According to the Census Bureau, the average house price in:

  • Houston = $200,000
  • Conroe = $223,300
  • Katy = $290,200
  • Sugar Land = $334,000. 

Houston already has the lowest housing prices!

If people were looking purely for more affordable housing, you would expect Houston’s population to increase, not decrease. 

But what do the high-growth areas have in common? They tend to be suburban with single-family homes that offer yards; a safe environment to raise kids; good schools; easy access to shopping and ample parking.

Perhaps the Planning Department needs to take a broader look at what attracts people and build that into its Livable Places Initiative.

Aerial Photo taken in 2022 north of Houston’s downtown.

In the picture above, note how some blocks have more green space than rooftops, others are entirely covered by rooftops.

Redevelopment under the new rules will bring more of the latter, not the former.

Saving the Green

Denser housing also means fewer trees. According to the EPA, “Trees are increasingly recognized for their importance in managing runoff.”

  • Leaf canopies help reduce erosion caused by falling rain.
  • Rain water can land and evaporate from more surface area.
  • Roots take up water and help create conditions in the soil that promote infiltration.
  • Trees stabilize soil and help regulate streamflow by reducing the velocity of water entering streams.

Yes, trees play a vital role in reducing flooding.

Planning Department staff are fond of saying that higher density housing in Houston will help prevent the clearcutting of forests in outlying areas and, thus, reduce flooding. “Build more homes where the infrastructure already exists,” they argue. 

There is, no doubt, some truth to that – especially on a macro level. Conservation and preservation make valuable flood-fighting tools. But…

Saving trees in one watershed won’t reduce flooding in another.

We need to practice conservation and preservation everywhere – to the extent possible – especially where people are flooding – in Houston.


Still, people need homes. And the cost of housing has clearly priced some people out of the housing market. According to the Census Bureau, a generational divide underlies the pricing divide. The housing shortage is dire in many metropolitan areas.

Older baby-boomers may abhor the type of development seen above. They’re literally saying NIMBY (Not in My Backyard!) to garage apartments, infill development and other types of housing encouraged by Livable Places.

But a younger group of millennials who find themselves priced out of the housing market are saying YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard).

Across the nation, renters, are especially cost burdened. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), says anyone who spends more than 30 percent of their income on housing is cost-burdened. Nationally, an estimated 40 percent of rental households and 21.3 percent of households with a mortgage met this threshold in 2018 – when Houston was revising building codes to help prevent another Hurricane-Harvey-type scourge.

One Crisis Vs. Another Crisis

Houston has averaged 3-5 flooding crises, on average, every decade for more than a hundred years. We saw eight in the last decade alone.

For a high resolution PDF, click here. Source: Harris County Flood Control District.

Now we seem to be solving a housing crisis with little regard for the predictable flooding crises we know will strike us. How soon we forget!

City Council Will Vote on Wednesday

City Council will vote on the “Livable Places” recommendations on Wednesday, 6/21/23. The Planning Commission website explains how you can sign up to speak.

ReduceFlooding.com recommends that City Council does NOT approve “Livable Places” recommendations until any potential impact on flooding is known and residents can decide whether the potential increased risk is worth any benefits developers may gain.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/18/23

2119 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Houston Planning Commission’s “Livable Places” Initiative Could Increase Flooding

Second in a series on the Houston Planning Commission’s Livable Places Initiative

“Livable Places” is a new initiative by the City of Houston Planning Commission designed to increase housing affordability and equity while increasing the walkability of neighborhoods.

To achieve these goals, the Commission is recommending new rules that govern development, platting and parking. They would also result in greater housing density especially in inner city neighborhoods. However, they affect the entire city.

Moreover, greater density usually comes at the expense of more impervious cover, which contributes to flooding. Despite several attempts to minimize the growth of impervious cover, the Planning Commission has not studied what the aggregate impact could be.

City Council will consider approval of the recommendations on Wednesday, 6/21/23. This Planning Commission website explains how you can sign up to speak.

ReduceFlooding.com recommends that City Council does NOT approve “Livable Places” recommendations until any potential impact on flooding is known and residents can decide whether the potential increased risk is worth any benefits developers may gain.

Proposed Changes

Specifically, ordinance changes to Chapters 42 and 26 of the City Code would allow:

  • Second Dwelling Unit: Lets this housing type be larger with parking based on the unit size. Think of apartments over garages or small backyard homes. Only available where deed restrictions do not prohibit their construction. 
  • Multi-Unit Residential: Brings back this affordable housing type which is small scale 3–8-unit apartments with a height restriction to fit better within neighborhoods.
  • Courtyard Style Development: Promotes this housing type where lots are located around a common courtyard, and do not require street frontage. The proposal includes green space requirement per lot, parking could be separate from the units and height restriction so that homes are at neighborhood scale.
  • Narrow Lot Development: Incentivizes this housing type where lots take rear access or shared access to reduce the number of times pedestrians come in potential conflict with automobiles. In addition, these regulations help the redevelopment be more walkable by reducing the driveway widths and preventing vehicles from hanging into the sidewalk.
  • Market Based Parking: For all the four residential development types mentioned above, the proposal is to allow market-based parking in proximity where other transportation options exist and make housing affordable. This means the City will not have a minimum parking requirement, and the property owner can provide parking based on market needs.

Impervious-Cover Impact Unknown

The recommended changes encourage greater density by allowing subdivision of lots. That generally means more rooftops and concrete per acre. Rooftops and concrete are called impervious cover because they do not let stormwater soak into the ground.

Here are the proposed changes to ordinances. They mention impervious cover only once – in the context of courtyard development. And that mention says, courtyards “may be a mix of impervious or pervious material…” They specify no percentages.

Neither do they mention pier-and-beam foundations that could elevate new buildings above flood risk without reducing floodplain storage. Any reduction in the volume of floodplain storage could affect the flood risk of existing homes.

Several department spokespeople pointed out, however, that any development would have a 65% cap on impervious cover. Above that, developers would have to build stormwater detention basins. But the wording of that requirement is reportedly being reconsidered at this time by the Public Works Department.

The Planning Commission did not conduct a comprehensive engineering study to estimate any increase or decrease in impervious cover associated with the recommended changes. That raises the question: 

Will impervious cover increase, decrease or stay the same? 

The City knows how much impervious cover we have now because the City charges us a Drainage Fee for it. And even though the City cannot predict which types of housing developers will want to build and in what quantities, it could easily calculate the increase or decrease for representative scenarios and make guesstimates.

But we may not know a definitive answer for decades until the impact of these recommendations become visible on the ground or during the next large flood.

Fortunately, the Planning Commission has recommended several changes that may help offset increases in density. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Elimination of some mandatory parking requirements in neighborhoods where car ownership is low and access to public transportation is high. 
  • Making greater use of alleys to preserve green space in public right of way at the front of lots.
  • Allowing shared driveways that are narrower than two individual driveways.

Density, Impervious Cover and Drainage Fees

Back in 2010, the City taught us that impervious cover was bad. The City even created a fee to discourage it called the Drainage Fee. Since then, the City has collected 3.2 cents per square foot of impervious surface from each home and business owner with curb and gutter drainage in the City. Those with street ditches pay a slightly lower rate. The total collected to date is reportedly approaching $1.3 billion

Aerial Photo taken in 2022 north of Houston’s downtown.

The proposed changes could make neighborhoods like the one above even denser and tax the capacity of storm sewers/roadside ditches even more. Many of the ditches are already blocked and in serious need of restoration.

street flooding
Adding more homes per acre in areas with drainage that’s already poor could increase flood risk for existing residents.

More Resources

To learn more about the Planning Commission’s Livable Places initiative and what the Commission believes to be the benefits, visit these resources.

Livable Places Housing Recommendations FAQ 6-16-2023
Proposed Draft Ordinances (C42 and C26)
Planning Commission changes as part of the action.
Proposed Market-Based Parking map for Housing Recommendations
Summary of Amendments Flyer in English or Spanish *Updated
Streetscape exhibit for small lots *Updated
Letters received about Housing Amendments *Updated
Comments matrix.

Livable Places does have the potential to provide some benefits to some market segments. So to make sure we get this right, I encourage comment from members of the planning commission, local governments, affected citizens, and flood experts. To submit a guest editorial, reach out to me through the Contact page of this website.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/16/2023

2117 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.