Cars and Trucks

After Flood Deaths in Galleria Area, Authorities Install New Gates

Just days after the historic Houston floods dumped billions of gallons of rain across the region, the Harris County Toll Road Authority released a video showing one woman's fatal decision. Ignoring a tow truck driver blocking the Westpark Tollway ramp leading to 610 South, the woman drove into what the toll authority said was roughly 17 feet of water. In the video, she appears to pull out her cell phone, calling for help or using it as a flashlight. Rapidly, though, the light sinks with the car, and the woman never comes up. Twenty-five-year-old Claudia Melgar was one of eight people who died in the flood, according to the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office. 

In response, the Harris County toll authority decided to install floodgates near the site where Melgar died. The metal gates aren't anything fancy — toll road workers will have to manually place them in front of exit ramps at Post Oak and Richmond. But as the woman's mother told Channel 13, she's hoping it will at least save other mothers the pain of losing their children to a tragedy like this.
The Texas Department of Transportation has also installed similar floodgates at a nearby location where three people died that single day, along the 610 frontage road near the U.S. Highway 59 intersection and the Galleria. The week of the floods, County Judge Ed Emmett vowed to do something about these dangerous, flood-prone roads, saying he would be working with TxDOT and the toll authority immediately, and it looks as if he followed through. TxDOT's gates are not yet installed, but a spokesperson told us they're working on it, alongside the Harris County Toll Road Authority.

"We're working together, both being proactive in our response to the unfortunate deaths that we've had in that area," said TxDOT spokeswoman Raquelle Lewis. She added that this is only an "interim solution" and that the department is doing a "comprehensive review of high-water prone areas around our district and looking at what remedies we might be able to put in place to have increased safeguards, which may or may not be gates."

The city, on the other hand, told us last month that it had previously decided against installing more sophisticated automatic flood gates on city streets because it assumed drivers would ignore them. At 19 locations across the city (eight more are under construction, none of which are at places where anyone died in the most recent flooding), Public Works has instead opted to install flashing lights and signs warning drivers to turn around.
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn