This chunk of Interstate 69 south of the George R. Brown Convention Center is just one part of a massive construction project involving the 45-69-288 interchange.
This chunk of Interstate 69 south of the George R. Brown Convention Center is just one part of a massive construction project involving the 45-69-288 interchange.
Photo by Lance Childers

610/69 vs. 45/69: Battle of Upcoming Freeway Interchange Construction Projects

On Tuesday, a HAZMAT spill closed down nearly the entire interchange at Interstate 10 and the West Loop. Traffic was brutal for the tens of thousands of people who commute through that area during rush hour. The good news is that spill was cleaned up and the roads eventually cleared. But that may have been just a taste of what is to come over the next decade on Houston freeways.

Highway 290 has become a convenient punching bag for area drivers over the last seven years while it was under a massive overhaul. Prior to that, the Katy Freeway was a near disaster for almost a decade as it was widened. Well, we ain't seen nothing yet.

Two of the worst and most trafficked intersections in the city are slated to go under the TxDOT wrecking ball in the coming years and none of us will be safe. The question is, which will be worse?

Loop 610 at Interstate 69 (still referred to as U.S. 59 inside the city)

Timeline

Construction in the area, particularly along Post Oak, is already underway. It even caused the cancelation of the annual Uptown Lighting ceremony. The project is slated for about three years, but bid proposals have included work for up to nine years. Most expect the bulk of the construction to take 5-7 years.

What are they doing?

Essentially, they are re-tooling the entire West Loop from San Felipe to Bissonet and 69 from Weslayan to the Westpark Tollway.

Why are they doing it?

This interchange is consistently one of the most congested in the state. The exits and entrances in all directions are sheer gridlock at all hours of the day and night, and there are more accidents here than in just about any other spot in the state. In short, it's a total mess.

How will it help?

The goal is to both increase the capacity of the interchange and change the structure of the merges to take the pressure off the last minute "oh God I've got to get over or I'll miss it" panic that seems to set in with every person behind the wheel in the area. It also promises to decrease traffic on the side streets around the Galleria, which, if you have driven around there you know, is unreal.

Interstate 45 at Interstate 69 and Texas State Highway 288

Timeline

Some of the preliminary work has already begun heading north on 45 as the flyover exits into downtown have mostly been removed and construction heading away from UH can be pretty brutal especially with the closure of Spur 5. The heart of the project is scheduled to begin in 2020 or 2021. The entire project could take 10-15 years, but there is no hard estimate on the time frame for the primary interchange, which, along with the stretch between there and Spur 527, will be first on the list. Best guess is 5-7 years.

What are they doing?

What aren't they doing? This massive $7 billion project includes the reconstruction of 45 between the Beltway (north) and the University of Houston, as well as 69 from Spur 527 all the way to Interstate 10. It will completely re-shape the entire downtown traffic flow and eliminate the Pierce Elevated completely. Downtown will not look the same when it is done.

Why are they doing it?

Have you ever driven down there? It's a giant concrete disaster. With more and more people pouring into the city's inner core, it is difficult to ignore the nightmarish maze we have had to deal with for decades.

How will it help?

This is yet another part of TxDOT's overall plan to reshape the highways that crisscross the city of Houston. Not only will it very likely reduce congestion, but it will alter the physical landscape of the entire downtown region.

Which will be worse?

Some of that obviously depends on your perspective and your commute. If you counted the entire I-45 construction project, it would clearly eclipse any other road construction work we have ever seen in the city before. But, even if we are only talking about the interchanges, the combination of three freeways merging, the longer time frame and the congestion of downtown clearly puts 45-59-288 plan over the top.

There is no doubt the 610-59 plan will cause a lot of pain for many Houstonians, but the city has never seen something like what is being proposed for the downtown area over the next decade-plus. At this point, the only thing we can hope for is we don't die in a traffic jam while it is underway.

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