Tag Archive for: TIRZ 10

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

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

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