Tag Archive for: Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority

Entergy Escalates Battle with COH over Northpark

Entergy power poles sit on City of Houston (COH) rights-of-way. The company also runs underground wires in an easement near US59. Yet after years of discussion, the company still has not moved them to make room for the widening of Northpark Drive. Nor did the company comply with a request by the City to say how it would move them by a March 8th deadline.

The Northpark project is intended, in part, to create an all-weather evacuation route for 78,000 people who live in the Kingwood area. Rising floodwaters during Hurricane Harvey cut off escape routes along Hamblen Road, Kingwood Drive, and West Lake Houston Parkway.

Offending Entergy poles where Northpark will be widened for turn lanes next to the bridge over UP railroad tracks.

First Notified in 2020 and Still No Action

On 2/10/24, I detailed how Entergy was first notified about the project in 2020. Yet the company has moved nothing along Northpark to make room for construction. Groundbreaking for the project was last April and construction began last July.

So, COH put Entergy on notice. It wrote a letter, discussed in last week’s LHRA board meeting, that was dated 2/6/24. The letter requested Entergy to submit a proposed schedule and plan by last Friday detailing how it would relocate its facilities within 30 days.

That letter was dated 2/6/24, meaning the equipment should be moved and out of the way by 3/8/24.

Entergy Response Contained Only Hypothetical Schedule

ReduceFlooding.com has learned that Entergy replied to COH Public Works by last Friday as requested. But the reply did not indicate how they would move their equipment by 3/8/24. Nor did it address why Entergy could not meet the 30-day deadline or why the company has taken no action since 2020.

Instead the response suggested Entergy needed many more months, but committed to no firm deadline, according to a COH spokesperson.

Entergy and LHRA had already worked through potential conflicts with other utilities. So, resolving conflicts was not the issue.

I do not have a copy of the Entergy letter to reprint at this time; an Entergy spokesperson refused to provide it, citing potential legal concerns. As a result of the Entergy letter, LHRA has now asked to meet with the City Attorney.

Cost Escalation Possible

Continued delays are escalating the stakes. The Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority (LHRA), which is acting as an agent of the City, has costly contractual obligations to its contractors.

Given the rate of inflation, delays could also reduce the purchasing power of LHRA’s budget. In the last four years, inflation in the construction sector has totaled 15-20%. And this project costs more than $75 million. Yet the original budget included only $3 million for change orders.

A legal battle could take years to resolve. That could needlessly put lives at risk and inconvenience tens of thousands of people daily.

Entergy Motive, Next Steps Unclear

It’s not clear what Entergy – a $4 billion company in Texas alone – hopes to gain through continued delays.

In the past, Entergy asked for compensation to move its poles. But according to an LHRA spokesperson, compensation is not allowable under Texas law because the poles were in a City right of way and not covered by an easement. Thus, any payment would have constituted a “gift of public funds,” which the Texas Constitution prohibits.

Entergy was, however, legally entitled to compensation for moving buried wires in an easement near the Exxon station at US59. Entergy had agreed to move them for $711,000.

Then, within days after the disagreement about payment for relocating the poles, Entergy’s asking price to move the underground wires mysteriously increased by half a million dollars. Simultaneously, their cost estimate went from line item to lump sum – without itemization. Since then, the asking price has increased another $200,000 without explanation.

LHRA has asked to meet with the City Attorney to discuss options and next steps. More news to follow.

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 2/10/2024

2365 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.

Northpark Tree Moving Starts; Pond Excavation Next

The Northpark Drive expansion project understandably slowed during the holidays. But Northpark tree moving started in earnest this week. Contractors have returned and started moving trees to clear the areas where two detention ponds will be excavated at 59.

In other news:

  • Concrete culvert is being stockpiled to carry stormwater from the ponds to the Kingwood Diversion Ditch via Ditch One behind the businesses on the north side of Northpark.
  • TXDoT has found a hazardous waste site for oil-contaminated dirt discovered during clearing for the north pond. Relocation of the waste should be complete by the end of January, if not sooner.
  • CenterPoint is almost finished moving its gas line that used to run down the center of Northpark. That will allow resumption of culvert placement in the center ditch.
  • Entergy is still delaying parts of the project by refusing to move its electric lines and transformers unless the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority pays them $1.4 million. The amount originally demanded – $711,000 – mysteriously doubled during the holidays.

To learn more about each of these items, see below.

Moving Day Arrives for Trees

Before excavation can begin on the two stormwater detention ponds at US59, numerous trees must be transplanted.

This week, Northpark tree moving began in earnest on the south side of Northpark. Trees are being moved from the center of the entry to the periphery to form a green backdrop that says “Kingwood.” They will frame a decorative pond that doubles as a stormwater detention basin.

The giant machine shown below scoops out dirt and places it to the side. Then it scoops out a tree and drops it into the hole.

To see the complete sequence, view this post from an earlier press conference.
This shot shows the beginnings of the tree backdrop around what will become a pond.

But the job isn’t done yet. More trees remain. Heavy rain earlier this week is still slowing transplantation.

Looking south across Northpark. Wide shot shows where pond will go and trees yet to be transplanted.

Contaminated Soil Being Relocated

Before Thanksgiving, contractors struck oil in the soil on the north side of Northpark at 59. Someone dumped it years or even decades ago. To prevent further leeching into the groundwater, contractors excavated and isolated it with plastic sheeting.

Since then, TXDoT located a suitable permanent site for the contaminated soil and contractor will soon begin moving it.

Looking south toward Northpark over the contaminated soil.

All contaminated soil should be removed by end of January at the latest, according to Ralph De Leon, project manager.

The ponds on both sides of Northpark will keep the US59 intersection from flooding during heavy rains, helping to ensure that the new all-weather evacuation route for 70,000 people remains passable during extreme storms.

More Box Culvert Stockpiled to Reroute Drainage

Excess water from the ponds will be routed east toward the Kingwood Diversion Ditch instead of north along 59 toward Bens Branch – a shorter route.

Why? During heavy rains drainage to Bens Branch where it crosses under 59 can back up all the way to the Northpark intersection. Re-routing it will avoid flooding along the vital 59 corridor AND Northpark without adding to the burden on the Diversion Ditch.

Culvert stockpiled between railroad tracks and Ditch One.
Northpark Drive drainage improvements
Alternate route for stormwater from entry ponds to Kingwood Diversion Ditch and/or Bens Branch.

CenterPoint Gas Line Relocation

As of this afternoon, CenterPoint had reached Russell-Palmer Road with its new gas line. It is moving the line from the median to make room for 6×8 foot concrete box culverts. The culverts will allow the Redevelopment Authority to create two new lanes inside the old lanes, rather than outside, which would be more expensive because of the need for property acquisition.

When the last quarter mile is finished to the diversion ditch, culvert placement in the ditch will resume. It was temporarily halted earlier when contractors discovered serveral conflicts with the gas line; it was higher than expected. That interfered with a consistent gradient for the drainage.

Entergy Conflict Resolution

Before Christmas, the Redevelopment Authority had agreed to pay Entergy $711,000 to move a transformer and some power lines. After Christmas, Entergy doubled the price to $1.4 million. It’s one more setback in a years-long struggle with the corporate giant. More news to follow when and if a resolution becomes clear. (Editorial comment: Entergy does not seem to share 70,000 Kingwood residents’ sense of urgency about the need for an all-weather evacuation route.)

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 1/4/2024

2319 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.

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

Deeper Dive into Northpark Expansion, Drainage Plans

On 7/27/23, I interviewed Ralph De Leon, Northpark project coordinator for the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority (TIRZ 10) and Kevin Perkins, a project manager for HNTB, one of the contractors on the job. The discussion covered both the eastern and western phases of the project from Woodland Hills Drive on the east to US59 and beyond on the west.

Since Tuesday, the contractors have made visible progress. Let’s cover that first. Then I’ll cover some surprising facts I learned about the project, including flood-mitigation plans; why the project has taken so long; how it will expand to 10 lanes near the railroad and Loop 494; parts of the project that will be elevated; bridge reconstruction; Atlas-14 conflicts; and more.

Box Culverts Arrive

By mid-day today, contractors had box culverts stacked several blocks in the median between Russell-Palmer Road and Flowers of Kingwood. They also had three excavators working Thursday, compared to one on Tuesday. And they were cutting concrete in the cross-overs.

Looking west from the diversion ditch (foreground). Only the 66″ round concrete pipe by the first excavator was there on Tuesday.
Looking east down the Northpark Drive median in opposite direction. Those rectangular culverts measure 6’x8′.
Note men cutting concrete in the median between Flowers of Kingwood (upper left) and the fireworks stand (out of frame, lower right).

The 6×8 box culverts stacked in the distance will extend under the cross-over and connect to the round concrete pipe using the junction box stacked in front of the four round pipes. See below.

Box culverts were stacked up to the red rib truck in the background.

The box culverts will convey 35 square feet of stormwater compared to slightly fewer square feet for the round pipe.

That “step-down” as stormwater moves toward the diversion ditch will provide inline detention.

Also note that the existing culverts under the crossovers provide even less conveyance/storage than the new pipe. The old pipes were much smaller and frequently become clogged with weeds and grass due to long maintenance intervals.

According to Perkins, the new pipe/culvert solution offers less friction from end-to-end. The pipes shouldn’t become clogged like the old pipes did because grass and weeds won’t grow in them. Also, their consistent dimensions under the cross-overs should let more water pass through faster.

To make sure water can get into the culverts quickly during heavy rains, contractors will use extra large inlets, similar in size to those used on freeways.

Why Project Has Taken So Long

De Leon and Perkins discussed approval delays at length, mostly related to multiple groups giving input and approvals.

  • The project goes into, out of and back into the City of Houston.
  • It straddles two counties, each with different leadership and regulations.
  • A TIRZ, several MUDs, homeowner associations, commercial associations, KSA and Lone Star College are also involved.
  • Harris County Flood Control District is reviewing all the plans and approvals.
  • TxDoT has final say over design criteria.
  • Funding will come from State, Federal, and local authorities.
  • The Union Pacific (UP) Railroad has had multiple changes in leadership since the project started.
  • Gaining utility easements and rights of way has taken much longer than expected. For instance, Entergy wants 50 months to move a SINGLE transformer, almost half again as long as it will take to build the ENTIRE bridge over 494 and the UP railroad tracks.

Getting all those dominos to line up has challenged everyone involved.

Project Will Expand to 10 Lanes Near Loop 494

Where the western phase of the project crosses Loop 494 and the UP railroad tracks, traffic surveys indicate that 80% of the traffic will go over the bridge. Regardless, TxDoT requires two lanes of feeder road in each direction to handle local traffic not going over the bridge. Six lanes of bridge and four lanes of feeder will require some property acquisition still to be completed. Not all of the expansion will fit over the center ditch.

Pedestrian Underpass

The eastern phase of the project will contain a pedestrian underpass similar to others found throughout Kingwood. Engineers hope to keep water out by making the entrances higher than surrounding areas so water drains away. The tunnel will be 10 feet wide to accommodate special extra-wide wheelchairs for people with curved spines. Ten feet will accommodate two such wheelchairs moving in opposite directions.

Elevated Roadway with Cheek Walls

In certain areas that experience repetitive flooding, especially east of the drainage ditch where Bens Branch cuts under Northpark Drive, the road will be elevated. Feathering out the bed toward the sides would require killing hundreds, if not thousands of trees. So instead, contractors will elevate the road using “cheek walls.” Highway 59 makes extensive use of cheek walls for the same reason – to conserve space and allow trees to grow.

Two 10-Foot Sidewalks to Lone Star College

West of 59, contractors will build two 10-foot sidewalks along Rock Creek south of Northpark. The sidewalks will help cash-starved Lone Star College students ride bicycles to class when weather permits. Katherine Perrson, now retired head of the college, made the request.

Leaving Room for Diversion Ditch Expansion

The City has hired a contractor called NBG Constructors to clean out the diversion ditch under both Northpark Drive bridges and return the channel to its original as-designed capacity. Over the years, sedimentation has constricted the flow as you can see below.

Note accumulated sediment constricting flow under bridge.

Eventually, Harris County will widen the diversion ditch. HCFCD rated it one of the two most important projects in Kingwood. As part of the Northpark Expansion project, both bridges will be rebuilt, but with enough width to accommodate eventual expansion of the ditch.

Meets Harris County Atlas-14 Requirements

When complete, the project will meet Harris County Atlas-14 requirements for 77339 which are more stringent (about 40% higher) than Montgomery County’s. That’s because virtually all of the water associated with this project will drain into Harris county. MoCo standards are lower because Montgomery averages requirements across the entire county. Rainfall drops off with distance from the Gulf.

Detention Basins and 59 Entry

To reduce the chance of flooding near 59, contractors will build two detention basins on either side of Northpark at 59. They will connect with each other underground and also connect with another basin and channel north of Northpark via an 8 foot pipe.

Timetable

All this won’t happen overnight. De Leon is working on updating the timetable and will post it with a new project website that gives Kingwood and Porter residents weekly or bi-weekly updates. More news to follow, including a deeper dive into the drainage analysis and how some water will be diverted around Northpark.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/27/23

2158 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

Northpark Drive Expansion Details

On July 28, 2021, Stan Sarman, chairman of the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority (LHRA), discussed details of the Northpark Drive expansion project with a group of Kingwood executives. The story below is based on his comments.

Looking ENE across US59 down Northpark Drive. The wooded areas at the entry will be partially replaced with lakes that double as detention ponds.

Improvements Motivated by Traffic Congestion, Railroad Delays and Flooding

The severely congested Northpark Drive will expand from four lanes to six between US59 and Woodland Hills Drive. As part of that project:

  • A bridge will also be built over the Union Pacific Railroad Tracks that parallel 494.
  • New bridges will also likely be built over Bens Branch and the Kingwood Diversion Ditch near Woodridge Parkway to provide emergency access during high water events.
  • The road will be elevated where it usually floods between Glade Valley and the Diversion Ditch.
  • Service roads will be added to handle traffic not using the bridge over the railroad tracks.
  • Ten foot wide sidewalks will be added along the entire length of the project to accommodate both pedestrian and bicycle traffic – on both sides of the street.
  • Detention ponds will be added to the entries at 59.
  • Landscaping will further beautify the entries and medians.
  • All drainage will comply with new Atlas-14 requirements.
LHRA will build a bridge over the railroad tracks to improve safety and eliminate traffic blockages. Note how outbound traffic is backed up as far as the eye can see. This and the related images were all taken at noon on Tuesday, 7/28/21.
Looking west. This is approximately where the first phase of expansion will stop.

“When completed the roadway will serve as the only dedicated, all-weather evacuation route for Kingwood residents.”

Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority

In 2019, the area between the Diversion Ditch and Ben’s Branch flooded badly – twice – damaging dozens of homes in North Woodland Hills.

Phasing and Funding

However, construction won’t all happen at once and it won’t start immediately. The project must be built in phases to avoid disrupting traffic as much as possible. The Redevelopment Authority has promised that two lanes of traffic will remain available in each direction for the duration of the project – with the possible exception of limited lane closures during bridge construction. during the bridge construction, which will be the last phase. The Public will be notified when a lane closure is anticipated.

The project will be built in phases starting at US59 and working east. Phase I will go from US59 to a short distance east of Russell-Palmer Road. This is called the Overpass (or Western Phase) of the project. LHRA budgeted $57 million for it.

Construction should start on the Western Phase in late 2021 and will last approximately 30 months. The Eastern Phase should start in summer 2023 and will last approximately 24 months.  

Phase II (the Eastern Phase) will go from Russell-Palmer to Woodland Hills. That will cost another $50 million (or more if a new bridge over Ben’s Branch must be built). At this time, the drainage analysis for that portion of the project has not yet been completed.

The total project could exceed $107 million, plus extras.

Stan Sarman, Chairman LHRA

The timing partially depends on tax revenues and grants. It also depends on the purchase of several parcels of land needed for feeder roads around the railroad bridge – not to mention approval by the railroad itself. The railroad reportedly favors the bridge because it improves safety, but is still studying the feeder roads.

After that , the next step will be to solicit bids and review them.

Drainage Improvements Will Make Extra Lanes Possible

One of the more interesting aspects of the project is the conversion of the drainage ditch in the middle of Northpark to buried culverts. Two extra lanes will be placed where the ditch now is. In other words, the roadway will expand inward rather than outward.

Farther east, culverts will replace the drainage ditch down the middle of Northpark. Two new lanes will be built over them.

The ditch that now splits opposing lanes of traffic on Northpark will be replaced by buried culverts. The culverts will telescope up in size from 4’x4′ near the railroad tracks. As you go east toward the Diversion Ditch, they will get larger until they reach 8’x6′.

A 66″ outfall will then restrict flow into the Kingwood Diversion ditch. Thus, the culverts will provide inline, underground detention to help protect people downstream.

Most people think that the properties on both sides of Northpark drain into the ditch. However, only parts of them do. According to Sarman, most of each property fronting Northpark either drains north into Ben’s Branch or south into the Kings Mill Ditch. So the culverts should suffice, he says.

The Redevelopment Authority has posted plans and videos that help explain the project in more detail. For more information, see:

Construction plans

Overview of phase I

US59 entry, landscaping and detention pond areas

Overpass project

Kingwood Drainage Study

Budget

Thanks to Partners

Sarman thanked Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin, Houston Public Works Director Carol Haddock, and the Houston Galveston Area Council for their assistance in keeping this multi-faceted project moving. KSA will also maintain the entries when construction finishes.

Sarman is an engineer by trade. He retired after more than 50 years with Turner Collie & Braden and AECOM. Earlier in his career, he helped design the drainage in Kingwood. His experience and continued involvement provide valuable contributions to this important project.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/28/2021 based on information provided by Stan Sarman and the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority

1429 Days since Hurricane Harvey