Tag Archive for: evacuation route

What Some Utilities Don’t Understand about Northpark Expansion Project

Foot dragging by utilities has set the Northpark expansion project back years. What none seems to understand is that this isn’t just a normal road expansion project. It’s about creating a reliable, all-weather evacuation route for 78,000 people.

The utilities see the project as a headache. Traumatized residents see it as a lifeline.

And that’s your problem in two, simple sentences.

Evacuation Routes Under Water

Unless you lived here during Harvey, you cannot comprehend the terror of people trapped by rising floodwaters with no way out. By my count, 15 died including 12 elderly who resided near Kingwood’s Town Center, 1.25 miles north of the San Jacinto. Another died two miles north of the river. And two more died near where the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto come together. That makes almost a quarter of the 65 people who died in Harvey across all of Harris County.

Many of my neighbors crowded on the upper floors of homes and in their attics, surrounded by rising floodwaters, praying that they would live through the night. Boats evacuated the lucky ones.

Before power went out and cell phones died, I received several panicked calls from neighbors asking if I knew a way out. They had already tried everything I suggested.

I was out of town when Harvey struck and couldn’t get back in. My wife was home alone, without food, a way to cook, running water, power, a working toilet, or communication. I didn’t know if she was alive or dead. She made it through, but the uncertainty kept me up for days.

I later learned that five evacuation routes out of Kingwood had flooded badly. A sixth to the north was passable… if you could get to it.

Harvey Photos Show Depth of Water

See the pictures below. Hamblen Road was the first to go.

Hamblen Road during Harvey. Photo by Jim Balcom. His family evacuated by boat.

The West Lake Houston Parkway (WLHP) Bridge also became inaccessible. While the bridge remained above water, roads leading to it were under water.

Evacuation from Kings Harbor Townhomes one block from WLHP bridge.
Sally Geis, rescued from the townhomes above made it out by boat. This shows her motoring by the Whataburger on WLHP north of Kingwood Drive, 1.7 miles north of the bridge.
That’s the top of a submerged car at the Kingwood Town Center Apartments near the library, one block west of WLHP.

Kingwood Drive flooded for almost three miles between Timber Shade and Woodland Hills.

Kingwood Drive at Shady Run.
Kingwood High School at Valley Manor flooded to the second floor. Kingwood Drive is in the tree line left of the parking lot.
US59 southbound was cut off by 240,000 cubic feet of floodwater per second. It damaged the southbound lanes of the bridge so badly that they took 11 months to rebuild.

Ford Road was generally passable…if you could get to it. Many who lived close by, even in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest could not reach it.

That leaves Northpark Drive. It too was blocked in places where channels and streams overflowed. I worked on Northpark for 20 years. And I have seen it flood routinely between Bens Branch and the Diversion Ditch during rainfalls much smaller than Harvey’s.

Regardless, it’s the best option for improvement because it’s on high ground. That means the flooding issues are fixable at an affordable cost.

Northpark Voted by Residents as the Most Important Project in Kingwood

After Harvey, multiple surveys conducted by the City of Houston and Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin’s office ranked improving Northpark as the most important project in the Kingwood Area.

The project includes a bridge that will go over the railroad. Those mile-long trains frequently back up traffic even when things aren’t flooding. If they stalled during a flood when 78,000 people are trying to squeeze through a pinhole, you have an even bigger problem. And we should not forget in that regard that the UP rail bridge also washed out during Harvey.

UP Rail Bridge Wash Out
Union Pacific railroad traffic was disrupted for months. It had to be completely dismantled. A new bridge was erected in its place.

TXDoT Says “Should Have Been Built Years Ago”

TXDoT told Northpark Expansion Project leaders that if a freestanding town of 78,000 people had been cut off by flooding, an evacuation route would have been built years ago. But we’re not freestanding.

Multi-jurisdictional Morass

Unfortunately, we live in a multi-jurisdictional morass. Two counties. The City. Unincorporated areas. MUDs. The TIRZ. Multiple school districts. Thirty-five homeowner associations. KSA. The state. The Federal Government. Redistricting. Multiple elections that create turnover in leadership.

You get the idea. No one entity or person speaks for the entire area. Thank heavens for former Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin who pushed the Northpark Expansion Project relentlessly ever since Harvey.

So come on Entergy. Come on Verison. Come on CenterPoint. Move it. Act like your lives depended on it. Ours do.

For More Information

For more information about the project including construction plans, visit the project pages of the LHRA/Tirz 10 website. Or see these posts on ReduceFlooding:

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/7/24

2322 Days since Hurricane Harvey

GLO Announces Bolivar Beach Restoration Project to Protect Highway

On 12/13/23, Texas General Land Office (GLO) Commissioner Dawn Buckingham, M.D. announced the approval of Coastal Erosion Planning & Response Act (CEPRA) funding for a Bolivar Peninsula Beach and Dune Restoration project.

The beach-restoration project seeks to:

  • Restore additional essential beach and dune systems
  • Provide crucial protection for Highway 87, Bolivar Peninsula’s only hurricane evacuation route

According to the GLO, the CEPRA funds – initially aimed at an engineering study – will provide both economic and coastal resilience benefits.

Part of SH 87 Already Washed Away

Highway 87 once had a stretch between Sea Rim State Park and High Island that washed out repeatedly over the decades. TXDoT closed it permanently in 1990. Today, eastbound SH 87 stops at High Island. Evacuees must then turn north on SH 124 toward I-10.

The stretch being protected provides the only remaining land-based evacuation route for the 2,800 residents of the Bolivar Peninsula. Seventeen people died there on September 13, 2008, during Hurricane Ike.

The scope of this project: to develop focused beach nourishment engineering design specifications for a U.S. Army Corps permit. Beach nourishment will alleviate tidal impacts threatening SH 87’s eastern terminus on Bolivar Peninsula near High Island.

Satellite Image Sequence Shows Severity of Shoreline Erosion

This series of Google Earth images shows how shoreline erosion now has waves lapping at the shoulder of the highway in this area.

State Highway 87 near High Island in 1974. Note dunes between highway and broad beach.
Same area immediately after Ike. Note erosion of beach and deposition inland from SH87.
Same area in 2023. Note continued erosion of beach toward highway.
Enlargement of nearby stretch shows high tide lapping at riprap which maintenance crews are replenishing (2023).

The beach nourishment engineering design specifications under this project are focused on an approximately four miles of the Bolivar Gulf-facing shoreline beginning at the Galveston-Chambers County line and extending west toward Gilchrist. This is where tides come closest to Hwy. 87 on a recurring basis.

Improving Resilience

“Ultimate benefits from this beach nourishment design work would include protection of the peninsula’s only hurricane evacuation route,” said a GLO spokesperson.

The CEPRA Program helps communities across the Texas coast implement erosion response projects and related studies to understand and reduce coastal erosion as it threatens public beaches, natural resources, coastal development, public infrastructure, and public and private property. 

The Bolivar Peninsula Special Utility District, Bolivar Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, Galveston County Road Administrator Lee Crowder, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry, and Galveston County Precinct 2 Commissioner Joe Giusti played pivotal roles in securing this funding.

Nature-Based Solutions Help Protect People and Wildlife

Commissioner Buckingham said, “As a Texan who grew up near the coast and lived on Galveston Island for more than a decade, preserving our state’s precious shorelines and their communities is a top priority.”

FEMA has found that such nature-based solutions increase quality of life for both humans and wildlife. And make no mistake. This is an important wintering and nesting area for many species of wildfowl that depend on the wetlands in this area.

Snow geese flocking near High Island in December 2008, shortly after Ike.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/1/24

2316 Days since Hurricane Harvey