Tag Archive for: Northpark expansion

Northpark Expansion Obstacles Finally Being Addressed

6/21/24 – Entergy has removed some – but not all – blockages to the Northpark expansion project related to its equipment. The project is designed to build an all-weather evacuation route for 78,000 Kingwood residents.

Entergy removed several of its poles that blocked expansion of the roadway earlier this week.

The company is also committing to dates for the removal of other poles that remain in the way of construction.

The Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority/TIRZ-10 first notified Entergy that it would have to move its equipment in 2020. On February 6th this year, the City of Houston finally set a firm deadline. It gave Entergy 30 days to move its equipment. That deadline was obviously missed.

Entergy says it has been working diligently to help Northpark expansion move forward. As we move into what is expected to be a very busy hurricane season, here’s where the TIRZ and Entergy say things stand and what I have been able to verify photographically.

Some Poles Already Removed Earlier This Week

Entergy removed several poles that blocked construction progress on Tuesday, June 18. They were located near Dunkin’ Donuts and Public Storage.

Note old pole on ground in front of Public Storage (out of frame to right).

Primoris, an Entergy contractor, took down that and several other poles that day.

More Entergy poles being removed by Primoris crew in front of Dunkin’ Donuts

Two other groups of poles continue to block construction, however. Here’s what Entergy is doing to address those.

Blockage #1: Poles West of Car Wash

The first blockage is a group of three poles immediately west of the Quick Quack Car Wash where new westbound turn lanes will begin. This group of poles still holds a Comcast cable. See below.

Looking W. Three short poles on left between Duncan Donuts and Quick Quack Carwash have yet to be moved.

Comcast has committed to burying this cable next week. Then Primoris can remove the poles for Entergy.

Blockage #2: Poles near Loop 494

The second group also has three poles – at Loop 494 and the Union Pacific railroad tracks. However, these three poles have two separate issues with which Entergy must contend.

  • They supply redundant power to the businesses along Northpark.
  • An Internet provider, Brightspeed, also has a line mounted on two of the three poles. (See #2 and #3 below.)
Entergy Delay Forces Change to Northpark Expansion Plan…Again
Looking W from over Northpark across 494. Three more Entergy power poles blocking Northpark Drive expansion.

To get these three poles out of the way of Northpark expansion, Entergy has three options:

  • Move them north (right in photo above)
  • Bore under the roadway and tracks
  • A combination of the above.

According to Brian Garcia, Entergy’s project manager, his company has chosen a combination of the two approaches. It will move the overhead lines north temporarily while it works out permits and easements with TXDoT and Union Pacific.

Once Entergy has secured permissions needed, it will then bury the lines, a solution that is more reliable. It is also more expensive because two moves are involved rather than one. But it should let construction move forward faster.

Entergy has committed to delivering a plan to temporarily relocate Pole #1 (in the photo above) by end of day today.

Weather permitting, Entergy also plans to actually relocate its wires on Poles #2 and #3 by 6/28/24 – next Friday. Entergy would then top its old poles. That would let BrightSpeed remove its cable. And then Primoris could remove the old poles.

Union Pacific Sets Meeting on Crossing Signals

Meanwhile, Union Pacific (UP) has set a meeting for July 9 to talk about relocating its crossing signals. It’s a firm deadline, according to De Leon, the TIRZ’s project manager for Northpark Expansion.

Unexpected delays by any party in this ballet of corporate behemoths could create a domino effect that could push the Northpark project back into next year. Or even force cancellation.

Blockage #3: Transformer At Exxon

Meanwhile, at the Exxon Station near US59, Entergy also has a transformer that must be moved farther back from the roadway. See red circle below. The distance has to do, in part, with line-of-sight issues for motorists. Its height means that it could block the view of motorists entering or leaving the roadway.

Entergy transformer at US59 (top) and Northpark (right) circled in red.

But working around the transformer presents serious construction problems. The wires leading to/from it are not up to code, according to De Leon.

He says that the City building code calls for underground wiring to be encased in steel. But the wiring in this area is not. That could jeopardize the safety of heavy equipment operators working to expand Northpark in this area.

Garcia disagrees. He says all of their equipment and lines meet or exceed all applicable building codes.

Several weeks ago, a contractor for the TIRZ did some exploratory hydro-excavation as part of its due diligence for the roadway expansion project. The contractor found Entergy wires that were exposed, not encased like De Leon says they should have been.

Wiring near Entergy transformer exposed during exploratory hydro-excavation process.

De Leon shared this photo in the June TIRZ board meeting. He says it creates a major safety issue for construction workers near the transformer. According to him, the workers could be electrocuted if, for instance, the bucket of an excavator accidentally cut one of the wires.

Garcia says Entergy crews will move the transformer. But De Leon and his contractors are concerned about what could happen if they encounter similar wires as they work in the same general area.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/21/2024

2488 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Entergy Delay Forces Change to Northpark Expansion Plan…Again

6/15/2024 – Fireworks erupted in the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority/TIRZ-10 Board Meeting on 6/13/24 over more Entergy delays related to the Northpark Expansion plan.

Four years after being notified to move its power poles and a transformer, Entergy still has equipment blocking the expansion. Ralph De Leon, the TIRZ project manager, explained that as a consequence, the TIRZ has been forced to modify its plans yet again.

Power Poles Conflict with Westbound Detour

Original plans called for routing westbound traffic in the vicinity of the bridge over the railroad and Loop 494 onto permanent turn lanes next to businesses. However, because Entergy power poles still stand where those turn lanes would go, LHRA decided to move traffic south, parallel to the existing eastbound lanes. See blacktop in photos and schematic diagram below.

Looking ESE from over Loop 494. Instead of funneling outbound traffic into new permanent lanes in front of the businesses on the left, commuters will use temporary lanes built on the blacktop. Photo 6/13/24.
Looking west toward US59 at asphalt that will become temporary westbound lanes. Photo 6/13/24.

The permanent concrete lanes originally were to have gone in the grassy area to the right where the first line of poles is.

Here’s a schematic diagram of the change.

For full, high-res PDF, click here.

Cost Impact Not Yet Clear

Replacing permanent lanes with alternate temporary lanes means that LHRA now will build these lanes twice instead of once. That will increase the project cost. However, no-one in the meeting mentioned an exact dollar amount.

De Leon said that in order to stick with the original traffic diversion plan, the deadline for removing the poles was last year.

Yet Entergy has not yet moved its poles where the new lanes will go. Nor have they provided a timetable for removing the poles. However, Brian Garcia, Entergy’s project manager, expressed confidence that the last poles would be removed “soon.”

It would be safe to say that most other people in the board meeting did not share his optimism. Discussion got heated at times as LHRA tried to pin Entergy down regarding a deadline. Hence, my reference to fireworks above.

Representatives of the City and TIRZ also made it clear that they intended to deduct the cost of the temporary lanes from any money that Entergy might have been entitled to for moving its transformer near the Exxon Station.

Two Groups of Poles

Two separate pole issues exist:

  • The original poles between Benjamin Moore Paints and Loop 494
  • Three key poles near the intersection of Northpark and Loop 494

The first group of poles has been “de-energized.” That means transformers and electric wires have already been moved. However, the old poles still have a fiberoptic communication line hanging from them. (Two lines in places). See below.

Looking west toward US59. Old poles on left still have fiberoptic line on them which must be moved to new poles on right. Photo 6/13/24.

The owner(s) of those remaining line(s) on the left must move them before Entergy can take down the old poles. But the fiberoptic provider has had weeks and not moved its line(s).

At the end of the line of poles above on the left sit three key poles shown in the aerial view below.

These three poles provide a redundant source of energy for businesses along Northpark. The businesses are also fed by power from Kings Mill. Photo 6/13/24

In the power business, it’s a standard/best practice to feed areas from at least two different directions. That way, if power is knocked out on one leg, the other leg can still supply homes and businesses.

Entergy has two choices with these three poles. It could move them north and continue to feed redundant power to Northpark businesses with overhead lines. Or, it could tunnel under Loop 494 and the railroad tracks. Entergy prefers to bore under for reliability reasons.

Again, Entergy’s Garcia is confident that the easements TXDot and Union Pacific require will be easy to obtain and come quickly. But the City and TIRZ do not share his confidence. They struggled for years to obtain their own easements and permits.

So, rather than just move the overhead lines north, Entergy is negotiating with TXDoT and Union Pacific to bore under their properties.

Who Will Bear Increased Costs?

After repeatedly being asked to provide a timetable for compliance, Entergy supplied none and instead shifted the conversation to its costs.

The overhead lines have sufficed for years. But Garcia says that Entergy prefers the underground option.

However, if all parties do not complete construction before October, the entire project could be delayed for months and possibly even cancelled. According to De Leon, Turner Brothers’, the prime contractor with the TIRZ, has other projects stacked up and waiting.

Turner Brothers would have to redeploy crews if they can’t keep them working on Northpark. And there’s no guarantee when those crews would be available again to work on Northpark.

But when the boardroom discussion turned to the need for Entergy to act quickly, Entergy turned the discussion to cost.

Garcia says there’s a significant cost for Entergy to move its overhead lines. If the company can bore underground instead, it would prefer to do that rather move its lines twice.

As a consequence, the TIRZ will be forced to shift traffic twice to keep the project moving.

Moreover, both the TIRZ and Entergy face a firm deadline from the railroad, whose busy season starts in October. They must have boring complete well before then with time for the railroad to lay new track and install new signal equipment.

Meanwhile, Entergy still has not moved its transformer near the Exxon Station at US59.

Argument Over Reimbursement

The transformer is outside the City’s easement but the power poles are inside.

Under Texas law, Entergy is entitled to reimbursement for costs outside City easements, but not those inside.

Ralph De Leon, Northpark Expansion Project Manager

Paying to move poles inside City easements would constitute a “gift of public funds,” which is illegal.

The two sides reached a tentative agreement on reimbursement last December. But then in January, Entergy demanded double the agreed total – without explanation or itemization.

In the June TIRZ board meeting, Garcia said he still needed to get the itemized costs approved by his management.

TIRZ directors (who are unpaid volunteers) could become liable for illegal payments to Entergy, hence the demand for itemized costs.

Other Northpark News

The pace of construction has also slowed due to heavy rains in May, which still have soils wet. When they dry out, contractors will resume:

Preparing to pour new concrete

  • Demolishing old concrete near Loop 494
  • Excavating the south pond at the US59 entry
  • Installing culverts
Looking E at progress of culverts. Ponding water in ditch (foreground) has slowed installation. Photo 6/13/24

For More Information

For more information about Northpark expansion, visit the project pages of the LHRA/Tirz 10 website. Or see these posts on ReduceFlooding. Many contain information about previous delays that caused plan changes:

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/15/24

2482 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Flickinger Provides Updates On Gates, Dredging, Northpark, More

City of Houston District E Council Member Fred Flickinger addressed a group of local executives at the Kingwood Country Club this morning. He covered a wide range of topics, both in his talk and during Q&A. They included the status of five flood-related topics for the Lake Houston Area:

  • New Gates for the Lake Houston Dam
  • Seasonal Lake Lowering
  • Additional dredging in Lake Houston
  • Kingwood Diversion Ditch expansion
  • Last weekend’s flooding on Northpark Drive
Flickinger addressing the Kingwood Executive Group at the Kingwood Country Club on 4/24/24

Floodgate Construction Could Start in ’25 or ’26

Within two sentences of standing up, Flickinger got straight to the subject of flooding and new, bigger floodgates for the Lake Houston Dam. He said, “Obviously, the big thing is getting additional gates. That is currently pending a FEMA review and approval.”

He continued, “We have about $150 million secured for those. Much of that has come via Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s office. Also the State, thanks to Representatives Dan Huberty and Charles Cunningham, and Dave Martin, my predecessor. Stephen Costello [the City’s Flood Czar] has also all done great work. They’ve all really done yeomen’s jobs getting money for the dam gates.”

Looking S. New gates will be built in the earthen portion of the dam to the left of the four small gates you see now.

“We’re looking at construction probably in late 2025 or sometime in 2026,” said Flickinger. “That’s obviously the biggest key to reducing flooding.”

Flickinger also said that he believes the current Mayor remains committed to the project.

Seasonal Lake Lowering

Regarding lowering Lakes Houston and Conroe, Flickinger said the City and SJRA have moved to an event-driven strategy rather than a seasonal one. Automatically lowering the level of Lake Conroe twice a year to reduce flood risk in the Lake Houston Area generated pushback from Lake Conroe residents.

For some time now, the politically divisive strategy has been replaced by an “as-needed” lake-lowering policy in one or both lakes depending on where and when rain falls.

However, the “as needed” policy requires precise forecasting. And several times lately, rain has shifted at the last minute. Ironically, that supports the need for bigger gates that release water faster. They can create extra storage in Lake Houston while still reducing the lead time needed, so forecasters can be absolutely certain of the need to lower the lake.

After all, that’s the drinking water supply for more than 2 million people. You don’t want to lower it needlessly if it won’t be refilled right away.

More Dredging on Tap

Flickinger next addressed the need for more dredging. He said that the City is currently removing another 800,000 yd³ of sediment between Kings Point and FM1960.

“Again, funding for that largely came from Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s office,” he said. “Some people in the government questioned whether that was Harvey-related sediment. But we got the funding! And dredging has started. So that’s a really good thing.”

Diversion Ditch/Walnut Lane Bridge

“The next issue with flooding,” said Flickinger, “is really the Kingwood Diversion Ditch.” The ditch cuts south from St. Martha’s Catholic Church to River Grove Park through the western portion of Kingwood.

“The Walnut Lane Bridge has about a fourth of the surface area below it that the Kingwood Drive and North Park Bridges have. Because of that, it works somewhat like a dam. Crenshaw just secured $4 million to address that, but we have got to have a cost/benefit ratio of one or greater, which will be a challenge. So, we’re working on that.”

Looking north along Diversion Ditch. Notice how it narrows under the Walnut Lane Bridge.

“And that money probably won’t become available for another six months. Hopefully, we can get that cost/benefit analysis to where we need it by then and use that money to rebuild the Walnut Lane Bridge. It’s a huge deal that affects Trailwood, Forest Cove, and even people who live along Bens Branch.”

“Part of the water from Ben’s branch is actually supposed to go to the lake via the Diversion Ditch,” said Flickinger. (That’s how the ditch got its name.) However, Flickinger noted that when the Diversion Ditch backs up, water goes down Bens Branch instead.

“And we’re getting more and more of that because of the development in Montgomery County…That’s part of why Kingwood High School flooded.”

Northpark Flooding

Last weekend, Northpark Drive flooded near the construction zone.

At the time, I conjectured that one or more of the drains may have been blocked. Flickinger revealed the cause this morning.

He said the drain was never tied into the new drainage system.

“It turns out that they had a change in foremen on the job, and one of the drains was not connected to the storm sewer.”

Houston City Council Member Fred Flickinger

“That is what caused that big fiasco. Now our office is going to contact the construction team every time we have a significant rain event and ask them to double check, so we don’t have any issues obstructing stormwater,” said Flickinger.

“Anytime you’ve got construction, there’s a certain amount of mess associated with it. But obviously, we don’t need somebody causing flooding by forgetting or blocking something.”

Looking E along Northpark on Sunday morning, 4/21/24 at area where drain was not tied in.

Before Flickinger had to leave for a meeting downtown, it became clear to everyone in the room that flooding was one of his primary concerns.

For someone who’s been in the job less than four months, he was very aware of the complex intricacies and interdependencies of the Lake Houston Area’s drainage problems. And that was very encouraging news!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/24/24

2430 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Northpark Culvert Installation Resumes

Northpark culvert installation resumed in a major way last week.

For several months, utility conflicts stalled installation of the 6’x8′ box culverts down the center of Northpark Drive. During preparation of the center ditch, contractors found gas lines buried at insufficient depth.

With those conflicts now resolved, according to Project Manager Ralph De Leon, installation of the box culverts can now resume. When contractors complete the culverts, dirt will be placed on top of them, and then two lanes of pavement on top of the dirt. The result will be a Northpark Drive that expands inward instead of outward. It will create three lanes in each direction…that should not flood like the thoroughfare currently does.

The expansion project has two primary goals:

  • Get more people in and out of Kingwood faster…
  • …in all weather conditions, even when other thoroughfares are cut off by flooding.

During Hurricane Harvey, West Lake Houston Parkway, Hamblen, Kingwood Drive, and parts of Mills Branch Road were all blocked by rising floodwaters.

Pictures of Installation Progress as of 4/15/24

Since my last post on 4/8/24, contractors completed installation of the culvert at Parkwood Baptist Church and are working their way west past Russell Palmer Road. Today, they were working in front of Shipley’s Donuts.

Looking E. Northpark culvert installation west of Russell Palmer Road near top of frame.
Looking E at Northpark culvert installation. Heavy equipment lifting massive section of culvert to place in hole.
Once men finish prepping the hole in the background…
…step and repeat for almost another mile to 494.

In Other Northpark News

Entergy managed to install five more power poles in the last week. That brings their total to nine in four years.

The new power poles sit back farther from the street. That will create room for four more lanes of traffic adjacent to the bridge that will go over the railroad tracks at 494. The four include two inbound turn lanes and two outbound turn lanes to/from 494.

Project managers first notified Entergy of the need to move the poles in 2020. Construction experts tell me the project could have easily been completed by now.

Not much new has happened at the entry ponds at 59. Heavy rains a week ago have the bottoms covered with water.

Looking west at area that will become the North Pond. Parts of new turn lanes are already being used, reducing traffic congestion somewhat.
Looking SW at South Pond
More culvert awaiting installation which will carry excess stormwater between ponds and Ditch One.

See the route below. It will go behind the businesses on the north side of Northpark until reaching the Kingwood Diversion Ditch and Bens Branch.

Northpark Drive drainage improvements

That pretty much does it for visible progress during the last week.

For More Information

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

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/15/24

2421 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.

New Entergy Power Poles Finally Arrive On Northpark

I got a tip last night that new Entergy power poles finally arrived. Today, I photographed the long-awaited equipment. The poles are not up yet. Nothing is connected to them. Most are just lying in the dirt.

In the quest to build an all-weather evacuation route for 78,000 Kingwood residents, readers may remember that the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority/TIRZ-10 has sparred with Entergy for four years. Entergy’s power lines need to be moved out of a City-owned easement to accommodate the expansion of Northpark Drive.

I have confirmed that the poles belong to Entergy. Entergy also claims that they will begin erecting the poles in the next few days, weather permitting.

My source did not provide an estimated date for completion. Nor did the source discuss plans for moving Entergy’s transformer near the Exxon station at US59.

But still, this is progress.

Making Way for Surface Turn Lanes

The existing Entergy power poles need to move back to make way for two surface turn lanes that will parallel the bridge over the UP railroad tracks at Loop 494.

One of the two new westbound turn lanes will let traffic turn left onto 494 and the other will let it turn right. This is a TXDoT requirement.

As you can see from the overhead clutter, this is not going to be a simple job.
Entergy has dropped new poles every few feet for several blocks down Northpark.
Entergy power poles back beyond the orange stakes on the left.

The City of Houston issued Entergy an ultimatum to have its equipment out of the way by March 8. March 8 came and went without a sign of Entergy along Northpark. Now, almost a month later, we finally have some movement that could avert a costly legal battle that had the potential to shut the expansion project down.

This is good news. The presence of the power lines in the right of way has delayed construction considerably and forced contractors to take tasks out of sequence.

Union Pacific access issues have already been worked out. So, hopefully, construction should move faster now.

Elsewhere Along Northpark

Northbound turn lanes at 59 have reached their full width and are growing longer.

Outbound traffic was confined to one lane today, causing considerable delays.
Note freshly poured concrete being finished.

As soon as the new turn lanes are complete, traffic in the old lanes will be rerouted to them. Then contractors will repave the old lanes. That process should take three months according to LHRA. Westbound traffic should expect delays.

LHRA encourages commuters to take alternative routes.  For the next phase of work, the contractor will install new storm sewer pipes and inlets along with the new concrete roadway.

Russell Palmer Intersection Closed This Weekend

Farther east, contractors have already removed a pole mounted traffic signal at the Northpark/Russell Palmer Intersection. This weekend, they will rip up the intersection to extend the box culverts in the median. The crossover will close from 9pm Friday night, April 5, to 5am Monday morning, April 8, to make way for construction.

Looking W toward US59 across Russell Palmer along Northpark. The crossover will be ripped up this weekend to extend the culverts.

Traffic was backed up for more than a mile in each direction this afternoon because of multiple lane closures as you can see above.

Construction is never easy. Pack your patience. Plan on delays. And search for alternative routes for the duration.

For More Information

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

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/2/24

2408 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 Expansion Update, Still No Sign of Entergy

In the last three weeks, the Northpark expansion project has made slow, but steady progress, despite the fact that Entergy still has not moved any power poles or its transformer. For the moment, contractors seem to be working around the absentee utility issues, which have lingered for four years.

The bulk of activity has focused on the two stormwater detention basins near US59; drainage between 59 and 494; and new northbound turn lanes at 59. In addition, contractors spliced in a section of culvert by Parkwood Baptist Church near Russell-Palmer Road.

A gap was caused by a conflict with an existing water line to the church. The water line was too close to the surface. Therefore, contractors could not place the culvert deep enough. Rerouting the water line became its own small construction project, requiring engineering diagrams, approvals, estimates, change orders, permits and city inspections.

Another Week, Another Turn Lane

Most progress this week could be seen at the entries.

Looking NE from over 59 and Northpark Drive. Note fresh concrete for two additional right-hand, outbound turn lanes.
Looking east. Photos taken Wednesday afternoon 3/27/24. Outbound traffic was backed up to Russell-Palmer Road.
Note fresh concrete pour and men smoothing it. Also note culvert and connectors being stockpiled for new storm sewers.
Farther east, we can see more prep work for the drainage that must be installed before work on the surface.

Rain Slows Basin Excavation

More than three inches of rain in the week before I took these shots seems to have slowed down excavation of the detention basins at the 59 entry.

Ponding water gives hint of what is to come. Looking N over south pond.
Looking E across north pond. Both retaining walls in the north pond are finished and the concrete is curing. Backfill is already completed behind the walls.
Looking S across Northpark at south pond.
Workers are still removing the wooden forms around the last retaining wall. Fill has not yet been placed behind the wall.

Work at Russell Palmer Scheduled

Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority/TIRZ 10 has posted a lane closure notice for the Russell-Palmer crossover between the east- and westbound lanes of Northpark from 9pm on Friday, April 5th to 5am on Monday, April 8th. That’s next weekend.

Crews will remove old pole-mounted traffic signals and replace them with wire-mounted signals. This will enable contractors to continue laying culvert toward the west. Right now the pole-mounted lights are in the center the road. That area will eventually be paved over.

Pole-mounted traffic signals at Russell Palmer will be removed to make way for extension of culvert.

Here is the 3-week lookahead schedule posted on March 21.

Entergy Still MIA

Entergy was first notified of conflicts with the expansion project in 2020. They still haven’t moved their equipment, such as this transformer. At this point, they have ignored a City of Houston ultimatum for three weeks. Entergy has not returned phone calls to clarify when it plans to take action.

Transformer at Exxon Station. The box that’s putting the whole expansion project in a box.

For More Information

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

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/29/24

2404 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.

Entergy Ignores City Deadline to Move Northpark Power Lines

Today, Entergy missed yet another deadline in a long series of deadlines to move its power lines to make room for Northpark Drive expansion.

On February 6, the City of Houston sent a letter to Entergy, demanding that the company move its power lines out of the City’s right of way within 30 days. That would have given them until March 8 to comply. But as of today, March 9, 2024, not one of the poles had moved.

The City’s agent, Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority/TIRZ 10, first asked Entergy to move the poles four years ago. This is just another in a long line of disappointments that have delayed the Northpark Drive Expansion Project – driving up taxpayer costs, increasing flood risk, and snarling traffic.

Last month, Entergy refused to provide ReduceFlooding.com with a copy of its response to the City. And today, Entergy did not return a phone call explaining why the company ignored the City deadline.

Before/After Photos

Here’s how the north-side/west-bound expansion area near the UP tracks looked before the City sent its demand letter.

Entergy power poles in the way of Northpark expansion
Photo taken Jan. 13, 2024, before City sent letter to Entergy.

And here’s how the same area looked this morning. Not one pole has moved as a result of the City’s February 6 letter.

Photo taken around noon on March 9, more than 30 days after letter was sent. Nothing has moved.
Reverse angle. Looking E along Northpark at endless backups and poles still in original locations. Also taken March 9th.

As I took these photos Saturday near noon, traffic was backed up more than a mile!

Clash over Cash

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 near Christmas last year. However…

Entergy still has not moved buried wires or a transformer near the Exxon station at US59.

…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.

Previous Communications with Entergy

City of Houston held Utility Coordination Meetings with Entergy on 10/8/20, 12/10/20, 01/14/21, 2/11/21, 3/11/21, 2/10/22, 3/10/22, and 4/14/22.

In addition, the City also emailed Entergy’s Utility Relocation consultant on 12/07/20, 06/21/21, 06/30/22, 07/22/22, 08/19/22, 09/20/22, 10/21/22, 01/11/23, 01/24/23, 03/03/23, 05/17/23, 07/19/23, 08/23/23, 10/16/23, 10/26/23, 12/01/23, and 12/13/24, 01/16/24.

I don’t care to speculate on the motives for Entergy’s lethargy. However, I’m pretty certain that if this goes to court, the entire project could be delayed years.

You can draw your own conclusions and point fingers where you will.

If there was ever any doubt, Entergy now knows that one of the main goals of Northpark Expansion is to provide an all-weather evacuation route for 78,000 Kingwood and Porter residents. Personally, I hate feeling like a pawn in Entergy’s game.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/9/24

2384 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.

Reminder: Northpark Phase II Input Meeting Thursday, 5-7 PM

TxDOT, the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority (LHRA), City of Houston and Tax Increment Redevelopment Zone (TIRZ) 10 will solicit public comments at a Northpark Phase II Input Meeting, from 5-7PM Thursday, March 7 at the Kingwood Community Center.

A significant part of the effort to provide an all-weather evacuation route from Kingwood in the event of another superstorm, such as Hurricane Harvey.

Current Northpark Drive looking west toward 59. Major crossroad in center of frame is Woodland Hills Drive. Extent of project would go from bottom of frame to treeless area in distance.

Phase II will run from slightly west of the Kingwood Diversion Ditch to slightly east of Woodland Hills Drive. Part of the mile-long project falls in Montgomery County and part in Harris County. 

Purpose of Project

The purpose of the project is to address current and increasing traffic congestion. Utility and drainage features will also be upgraded.

And to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, the project will include a new pedestrian underpass and 10-foot wide sidewalks that connect to the Kingwood trail system.

The TxDOT announcement provides a few of the details:

  • To improve commute times, the roadway will expand to three lanes in each direction and include turn lanes.
  • To improve safety, lane width will also increase.
  • The proposed reconstruction will include new signals at the Woodland Hills Drive and Hidden Pines Drive. 
  • To improve drainage and make Northpark passable in high water events so Kingwood residents have an all-weather evacuation route.

No Home Or Business Structures Expected to be Impacted at This Time

TxDOT does not anticipate impacting any home or business structures at this time. But strips of property that front on the roadway will need to be acquired. For additional details, see this TxDOT page or a schematic drawing on this LHRA page.

Meeting Details

LHRA and TxDOT will discuss plans for the next phase of the project. It will reach past Woodland Hills Drive. 

Thursday, March 7, 2024
from 5-7 p.m.
Kingwood Park Community Center
4102 Rustic Woods Dr.
Kingwood, TX 77345

Part of Northpark Phase II

The Northpark Expansion project will not only move traffic faster, it will create an all-weather evacuation route for 78,000 people in the Kingwood and Porter areas. During Harvey, other evacuation routes were cut off.

Pictures of Major Features

The pictures below show the way things exist now. Captions will describe the changes.

West is Up. Note Walgreens on south side of NP (top left) and Exxon on north side (top right). Three lanes of traffic will continue outbound and continue past bottom of frame inbound. Turning lanes widened and added.
Pedestrian underpass will be added between the Walmart Parking Lot (right) on the north and McDonalds/Executive Barber Shop (shown on the left). Road will be elevated as over other underpasses in Kingwood.

The underpass will improve safety for thousands of Kingwood Park High School, Kingwood Montessori, Creativity Shell, and Village Learning Center students.

Looking W along Northpark. Elevated roadway and new bridges over Bens Branch by St. Martha’s (upper right out of frame) will improve safety during high water events.

In addition, the road will be widened to at least three lanes, from US59 until approximately 1,000 feet east of Woodland Hills Drive.

Who Should Attend?

  • Any whose evacuation route was cut off during Harvey
  • Anyone who commutes along Northpark
  • Parents of Kingwood Park High School Students
  • Business owners in the Northpark Place Commercial Association
  • Anyone who flooded along Northpark, North Woodland Hills
  • Anyone who flooded downstream because of Bens Branch
  • Anyone who flooded along the Kingwood Diversion Ditch.

That’s because Northpark drainage is intricately connected with Diversion Ditch and Bens Branch Drainage.

Your input is vital to ensure the project remains consistent with your needs and community norms.

Please come. Speak now or forever hold your peace, as they say in wedding ceremonies. Many will to have to live with this project for the rest of their lives.

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 3/5/24

2380 Days since Hurricane Harvey

February ’24 Northpark Expansion Update Including Lane Closures

In the past two weeks, construction activity for the Northpark expansion project has focused primarily on the ponds at US59 that will double as detention basins.

However, progress has also been made farther east. CenterPoint has been busy relocating gas lines. Contractors now have signed right-of-entry permits to UnionPacific (UP) property. And they have been busy installing a storm-sewer junction box in front of the Shell Station at Loop 494.

But the thing most people will notice this week is that two of the four outbound lanes on Northpark at 59 are now closed and will remain that way for several months.

Entry Ponds

I took all the pictures below during the last week of February 2024. For the first time, you can clearly see the outlines of both ponds. Contractors started on the north pond first. So, it is further along. But the outline of the south pond, ringed by transplanted trees, is now also clearly visible.

Looking N at S Pond
Closer shot shows three more decorative areas for plantings, one on each side of the triangle.
Men working on foundation for retaining wall around one of the landscaping areas along Northpark Drive.
Reverse angle. Looking S at N pond.
Retaining wall around area to be landscaped was just completed and contractors were removing forms for concrete.
Pipe for storm drains is being stockpiled in North Pond.

As you can see from these photos, the sides of the ponds will slope toward the middle. Maximum depth for each pond will be about 20 feet.

According to Northpark Expansion Project Manager Ralph De Leon, excavation currently is down to about 7 feet max, the approximate location of the water table. So, the ponds will eventually get almost three times deeper than they are now. That’s a lot of dirt to move!

Contractors will use the dirt to fill in over the box culverts which will go down the center of Northpark. But because of several utility conflicts, placement of the box culverts had to be put on hold.

So, contractors are storing the dirt at the Eagle Sorters Sand Mine on the West Fork. It will be transported back to Northpark when needed.

Stored dirt (center) from entry ponds at the Eagle Mine on Sorters-McClellan Road.

After Harvey, the Army Corps used the Eagle Mine as a placement area for sand and silt dredged from the San Jacinto West Fork.

Once contractors place the dirt over the culverts, they can then begin paving two additional lanes of traffic over where the center ditch used to be.

UnionPacific

Now that all the legal agreements are in place and engineering plans have been approved, work can begin around the UP tracks. It won’t happen immediately though. According to UP, rail traffic is now in its peak season. In the coming months, expect to see three types of activity.

  • Boring under the tracks to take excess stormwater from the entry ponds to the Kingwood Diversion Ditch and Bens Branch via Ditch One.
  • Placement of a one-piece concrete bed/continuous section of track over the project area with signal upgrades
  • Creation of ground-level feeder roads/turn lanes on each side of main lanes which will bridge over the tracks.
ditch one
Looking E at Ditch One, Part of Northpark Expansion Drainage. Northpark is in upper right.

Northpark Expansion Project Lane Closures

Starting yesterday, 2/26/24, two westbound lanes on Northpark at 59 closed temporarily for reconstruction during the next few months.

During the first month, the existing left turn lane and one through lane will remain open. Then traffic will switch onto the newly constructed lanes, while the other lanes are completed. The contractor will install new storm sewer pipes and inlets along with new concrete roadway.

Looking N. Demolition has already begun on two westbound lanes.
At 4 PM on Tuesday afternoon, OUTBOUND traffic on northpark was backed up past Russell-Palmer Road because of the lane closures.

Westbound traffic should expect delays and alternative routes are encouraged.

Judging by the outbound delay I saw today, I plan to avoid this bottleneck for the duration of the Northpark Expansion project.

Other Activity

The Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority (LHRA) and City Councilmember Fred Flickinger are scheduled to meet with the City Attorney on Thursday, 2/29/24, to discuss the Entergy issue. After years of discussion, the utility has not yet begun moving its power lines and transformer out of the way.

LHRA will hold a board meeting on March 14th, in part, to discuss Entergy options.

On Friday, March 15, the City, LHRA and Entergy will meet. Hopefully, they will come to an agreement that doesn’t involve legal action, which could increase costs and cause delays.

Reminder: Phase II Meeting on March 7

Also don’t forget the public input session on March 7 from 5-7 PM. LHRA and TxDOT will discuss plans for the next phase of the project. It will reach past Woodland Hills Drive.

Thursday, March 7, 2024
from 5-7 p.m.
Kingwood Park Community Center
4102 Rustic Woods Dr.
Kingwood, TX 77345

Part of Northpark Phase II

The Northpark Expansion project will not only move traffic faster, it will create an all-weather evacuation route for 78,000 people in the Kingwood and Porter areas. During Harvey, other evacuation routes were cut off.

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 2/27/24

2373 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.

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 2/20/2024

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.