No one would think to question the stress-inducing nature of Houston traffic. It is made all the worse during the holidays when certain areas of town experience the kind of gridlock we dream about on fitful nights of sleep leading up to Black Friday. The good news is the holidays will be over in a month. The bad news is traffic in Houston will never end.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help you avoid the worst of it this year, most importantly avoiding these five hotspots.
With two more years of construction left on the pile of detritus once known as US 290 and an unknown number of closures in the coming weeks, this is one highway best left un-traveled this holiday. If over the river and through the woods means across the Colorado and past the Hill Country to Austin, there are better options than this disaster.
To near north side neighborhoods: T.C. Jester or North Shepherd
To the Beltway: Interstate 10
To Austin: Interstate 10 to Highway 71
The West Loop
Under normal circumstances, traversing the West Loop, particularly between Post Oak and the Southwest Freeway, is inadvisable. Even on weekends, there is traffic in both directions—to 59 means dealing with one of the worst interchanges in the state of Texas and leaving it forces drivers to deal with the 290/610 debacle. Add to it the Galleria and surrounding areas of shopping madness and there's nothing to see here.
Interstate 45 or the Beltway (depending on where you are) to I-10 and 59 might be WAY out of the way for many of us, but it very well could save your sanity.
Kirby Drive (between Westheimer and Holcombe)
Shoppers frequently complicate traffic during the holidays. Kirby is already kind of a nightmare most days but when you consider popular shopping destinations like West Ave and the Village are along this route (nevermind the Alabama Whole Foods, God help you), staying out of this area in December is recommended.
South of 59, take Greenbriar or Buffalo Speedway. North of 59, just hold the wheel tightly and pray.
Westheimer (Shepherd west to Chimney Rock)
There is perhaps no more complex thoroughfare in Houston than Westheimer. East of Shepherd is a twisting, narrow, pock-marked road through the Montrose. But, anyone who spends much time inside the Loop recognizes this as normal. Go west of Shepherd, however, and you meet a new hell. From the new River Oaks shopping center and the hellish Highland Village to the mother of all shopping nightmares, the Galleria, no one needs spend any substantive time on Westheimer this season.
Richmond Avenue, San Felipe or Memorial Drive, if you are just heading to the Galleria.
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South Shepherd (59 North to Memorial)
Is there a street right now that is more of a complete mess than South Shepherd? Not a chance. The already terrifyingly narrow, pothole-laden road is under a kind of construction that leaves it looking like something between a war-torn third world country and a nuclear test site. Large sections are trimmed down to one lane surrounded by orange cones and the smell of death. Abandon hope all who dare traverse it.
Montrose Boulevard and Waugh Drive.