The Spur needs to split at Shepherd.

One of the most reliable backups inside the Loop right now is the PM reverse-commute inbound on 59. In the early afternoon, when most of the Transtar map is green, the Shepherd-Spur segment is yellow. By the height of the rush, the queue extends at least to Buffalo Speedway. This happens for a number of reasons – but first, the fix. Because it’s ridiculously simple.

Move the diverge point to Shepherd.

To see why, here’s 59 in Greenway. Five lanes. Now here’s 59 entering Midtown, a couple miles further to the east. Again, five lanes – and about to lose two of them.

So add a couple miles of barrier and put the split at Shepherd. If you’ve driven this route once, you can see how it would immediately shave several minutes off the trip to Downtown/Midtown/Montrose. The Spur is never jammed in the reverse direction, so anything that effectively lengthens the Spur lengthens the distance of hassle-free 60mph cruising. But such a configuration would also help drivers continuing on 59. Here’s why.

Why does 59 back up?

In short, three tailbacks and a weave. 59 through Midtown consists of three lanes which split into three freeways, and backups on any of these are telegraphed through onto the mainlines. The splits:

(i) The two left lanes head to 45. While there is a predictable queue to get onto the Pierce Elevated, it rarely backs up onto 59.

(ii) The two right lanes head to the Eastex Freeway, continuing as 59. This is a more common location for congestion, as there are two lanes coming off 59 and two lanes coming off 288, which narrow to three past the GRB.

(iii) An auxiliary lane gets picked up from San Jacinto which peels off onto 288 after a few hundred feet. 288 South is often backed up, and any tailback from 288 will cause the weave from San Jac to break down, effectively taking out two lanes. This by itself is sufficient to back up 59 past Shepherd, even if both the Eastex and the ramps to 45 are relatively clear.

Even when all three destination freeways are running smoothly, the short weave from San Jac still causes a reduction in capacity that is available through Midtown.

How does moving the Spur diverge point westward help? Because the Spur merge acts as a repeater for the Midtown bottleneck. In a normal traffic bottleneck you have three zones. You have the bottleneck itself, you have a queueing section where traffic stacks up waiting to get through the bottleneck, and then you have a free flow section upstream of there.

As traffic backs up on 59 past the Spur, drivers are faced with a dilemma. Do I sit and queue here in the right three lanes, which aren’t moving? Or do I get over and zoom past until right before the split? Many, understandably, choose the latter. But what this does is create a new bottleneck at the point where the Spur diverges, because traffic is merging into the left lane and then trying to cross over to get to 288 or stay on 59.

Wouldn’t a Shepherd Spur Split just move the repeater point to Greenway? No, for two reasons. First, a lot of the time the backup from 288/59/45 will never make it to Shepherd. Cars will happily (or not) queue up in the right three barrier-separated lanes, and the end of the queue will be somewhere between Midtown and Shepherd. And when it does make it back there, it still won’t be as bad, because there are already auxiliary lanes between exits in Greenway.

11 thoughts on “The Spur needs to split at Shepherd.”

  1. I am with you 100% on this approach. SO how do we get TxDOT to move?

    You have my e-mail address from this post, send me a link. I know some engineers there (including my niece!) so I can at least find some names.

    This change would make my homebound commute a WHOLE lot better.

    (but have you noticed that the last two days it hasn’t been too bad?)

    Call me dj…

  2. They recently did the same kind of thing at 288 and 610.

    The two 288 SB lanes would split to three then one exit only lane would be added from the 610 EB entrance. The need to merge into the continuous lanes created the traffic jam.

    Now 288 SB stays at two lanes, and the 610 EB entrance gets two lanes (one exit only). It is amazing how much little paint and the willingness to “waste” some concrete can improve traffic flow.

  3. Good idea. Maybe for starters they should add the big yellow Must Exit signs a quarter mile earlier. Most folks jump in the left lane earlier than the current sign and once they are there then just speed ahead. If it was earlier it would stop a decent amount of law abiding drivers. Those who don’t follow? How about having those cops that sit on 59 at the diversion of the spur writing inspection tickets or whatever, starting writing tickets for those cutting out of an exit only lane.

  4. Go to hell. I use the Shepherd onramp to the spur EVERY DAY. This would make getting downtown from any of the neighborhoods east of Kirby a disaster, and cause more congestion on Kirby as people used that as an alternate route to get on the spur. Don’t punish me because the morons from Sugarland choose to cheat by not staying in the right lanes.

  5. While perhaps not quite as viscerally opposed as Danwell, I’m not so sure this would work well at all. I work in Sugar Land and make that commute everyday, for one year from Downtown and currently from the museum district (288 -> 59S). For those going downtown in the afternoon it’s actually not that bad; there is congestion from about Shepard (or Buffalo Speedway if it’s really bad), but the left two lanes typically start moving quicker shortly after the Shepard merge in the right lanes. It’s actually more of a problem to get to 288 south in the afternoon, but not because 288 backs up onto 59 — I’ve yet to see that happen with normal traffic.

    I’m almost convinced that aside from the removal of lanes due to exits and splits, the most significant contributor to that backup is the cops that sit there, walk into the middle of the lane and wave people over to write tickets for improper lane change, or expired certs, or for whatever reason. That tends to bother me more than the jackasses who think they can save 30 seconds by passing in the exit only lane.

  6. i live in the rice university area and use the shepherd on-ramp to get to the spur almost everyday. i’m sure many of my neighbors do the same. it would be a shame to cut off that route and push all that traffic to the already congested kirby or buffalo speedway on-ramp areas. why don’t we just extend the double white line slightly further back and actually enforce traffic laws. i think a more pressing need is to fix the abortion that is the 59-S > 610-N transition.

  7. to add to david, I’d say deal with that whole southwest side before anything else. The west-loop/59s region is literally in my top 10 most hated things anytime of day and top 3 during rush-hour.

  8. I think this idea has plenty of merit as it makes perfect sense to me. Other then widening Hwy 59 even more or getting rid of the 529 Spur altogether I don’t see another viable option here. As for Danwell please learn to use the many surface city streets that you have at your disposal. What’s the Freeway really going to do for you when you’ve got 2 miles or less to drive on?

    In Houston solving traffic woes would be much easier if we preached the following mantra, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”!

  9. Yes, I’m sort of amused by these dire predictions of people backtracking to get on at Kirby, instead of, I dunno, taking Main, or San Jac, or West Alabama. But even then, you’d probably see improved flow, since the Shepherd people are getting over well in advance instead of riding the right lane ’til it stops then trying to cut over at the same point people are trying to cut back in.

  10. I have another problem. I live in the Museum District and this backup causes problems for me. I jump to the far right and take the extra long merge lane before bailing on the Main St. exit. Given that the shoulder is rarely clogged with a broken down car, I would love to see that should become a Main St. exit-only lane, thereby allowing people like to me skip the needless traffic.

    If an accident were to occur, people would still take up this “exit-only” lane and we’d join the regular traffic. Nevertheless, for the other 95% of the time when people aren’t causing accidents, we’d be saving ourselves a good ten minutes on that 1.5 mile stretch.

    My workaround is just to cruise through Braeswood Oaks instead.

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