Circling Houston 4: On Shifting IH 10

Once you start thinking about using one-way operation as a framework for capacity expansion you immediately look at IH 10. There’s not a lot of extra room in the existing ROW. It’s got the tightest mainline corner in the Downtown Loop. Sight distance is less than awesome. And there’s a lot of vacant land to the north that makes an ideal place for a freeway. So what could you do?

The simplest thing to do is retain the geometry of the existing 10-59 interchange and start the shift west of Elysian:

This takes out Reader’s Wholesale, which is kind of a dick move. It’s a cool building, it’s a going industrial concern, and said building was built by said industrial concern. When you consider the kind of stuff that holds up projects elsewhere (e.g. junkyard owner wants to sell to the DOT, but can’t because the junkyard was the site of a brewery 100 years ago), it shouldn’t be too hard to avoid this. A more context-sensitive alignment might shift the “Freight Main” to the north.

This is basically “threading the needle” in that you’re putting lanes through the vacant lots while preserving almost all the existing buildings. You also have the option of depressing the entire facility below grade. When IH 10 was built it had to go up and over the M-K-T which also meant overpassing Main and San Jac. But since that’s now the Heights Bike Trail, you could lower IH 10 and send the bikes over the top of it.

The downside to this is that the new alignment is only mildly less curvaceous than the old one, particularly where you have to thread IH 10 around the freight main bridge over White Oak. A more radical option is to abandon the freight main entirely and replace it with a three-track passenger main, possibly using some of the right of way of the old IH 10.

I’m not sure I’d personally go this route, but it could be done.

7 thoughts on “Circling Houston 4: On Shifting IH 10”

  1. First off, routing I-10 to the north near those rails wouldn’t work because, correct me if I’m wrong, the light rail is building an overpass the yard (like how the street goes under, LRT goes over).

    Possible solution: convert the MKT back to a railway and turn the other railroad into a bike lane?

  2. Well yeah, any kinda major realignment like this is going to take some rejiggering. Moving the bents on an LRT overpass isn’t particularly difficult. It was done on the Elysian Viaduct when they first put through IH-10.

  3. But Interstate 10 was put in years ago (1960s?) and at the time, most of the bayous hadn’t been rerouted and hemmed in with concrete like they have today.

    Looking at the map, it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary to have a parallel tollway that would minimize ROW acquisition. The second proposal wouldn’t work anyway because Reader’s Wholesale is built next to the railroad for a reason, and by cutting off rail access you might as well bulldoze the building.

  4. Reader’s Wholesale hasn’t had a rail dock for some time. It was almost certainly a factor in locating the building there, but that was back in the days when railroads still shipped LCL.

  5. Oh…I didn’t realize Hardy Yards had been completely dismantled. However, looking at HAIF, there was a mixed-use development planned back in ’06, and it seems to be progressing despite the slow economy: the yard was dismantled in 2010-2011, so I’m guessing work is still is going on, which renders all your I-10 rerouting plans invalid.

    It is a problem worth looking at, though.

  6. The original plan for a mixed-use development at Hardy Yards envisioned adaptive reuse of several of the existing structures. Their demolition was a result of the financing falling through, twice – “when in doubt, level the site” being a basic Houston development paradigm.

    Beyond that, pretty much every “what if we did it this way”-type proposal that a blogger can put up is going to conflict with some other plan that someone else proposed at some point. Christof’s old posts on rail alignments conflicted with official EIS documents prepared at great expense. Yglesias’s posts on the Height Act conflict with a hundred years of DC zoning precedence. So I’m not really sure what your point is.

  7. Just glancing over the 2006 proposal looks like a bunch of small buildings rising out of what was the tracks. I also don’t think Google Maps Street View is the best way to measure sight distance, either: try looking at a photograph versus looking at the same place in Google Maps. Very different experience. Now, I haven’t been on Interstate 10 (Houston traffic scares me), but I’ve ridden in the front seat before, and I know this: it’s NEVER particularly good even in straight areas at good weather, because there’s going to be half a dozen cars around you and you have to watch in case someone wants to make a sudden lane change. No one wants to join the “Disabled Cars in the Shoulder” club.

    There is a “minimum angles for Interstate freeways” standard somewhere, and extreme as it may seem, both Interstate 10 and the Big Dig pass (the Big Dig being even worse than Interstate 10, and the old Central Artery grandfathered in).

    However useless talking about rerouting Interstate 10 is, it is fun to speculate about highway moving and removing. Option 4: avoid the whole Interstate 45/10 spaghetti and curves and tear through the Fifth Ward, avoiding most of Hardy Yard and meeting up with US-59. Then, widen Interstate 45 from the old 10 right of way (where they parallel each other) and turn the rest of the old 10 into an express downtown spur.

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