The Five Biggest Traffic Headaches to Come in Houston

Like looking into a crystal ball five years in the future.
Like looking into a crystal ball five years in the future. Photo by Doogie Roux
We all hate the traffic situation in Houston. It's brutal and annoying and with population on the rise, it is likely to only get worse. But, that's only part of it. Because we are right at the start of several massive construction projects that are going to slow things down considerably for area drivers.

When it is all over, things SHOULD (with emphasis) create a much better freeway driving experience for most Houstonians. Unfortunately, we may all be dead by then. We kid...sort of.

So, here are a list of the five biggest hotspots in area traffic to look out for in the coming months...and years.

West Loop

The first batch of construction to one of the city's most densely trafficked stretches of freeway is already underway, but thus far, the changes, while frustrating, have been modest. That will end this summer as crews ramp up completion of the Post Oak rapid bus service lanes and begin to make adjacent freeway adjustments. Expect FULL closures of the West Loop at various times causing massive delays in the area and anticipate multiple closures for this over the course of the next year. We would suggest you take the bus, but you're probably reading this in your car as you speed down 290 on your way to the Galleria, so who are we kidding?

West Loop at I-69 Interchange

If all that West Loop stuff above didn't make you feel like you were reading a message from the harbinger of doom, this might. What has long been one of the worst and most dangerous highway intersections in the entire state of Texas is getting a complete makeover. But instead of a fun, Queer Eye-style transformation with cool new bangs and a wardrobe full of colorful prints you would never wear before you realized they made you look amazing, we're getting a back-room, illegal facelift to change our identity because we're on the run from the Mafia and we thought we could go from Nick Cage to John Travolta (Face Off reference FTW!) with some "doctor" named Bubba and his rusty scalpel. The entire project could take up to seven years to complete and you can be sure that what also happens to be one of the busiest intersections in the city at all times of the day or night is going to make you want to whack someone eventually, maybe yourself.

The North Freeway

For decades, I-45 north between the North Loop and the Beltway has been a lingering reminder of what happens with unchecked sprawl. It's littered with car lots and car lots converted to tractor lots and sketchy shops of questionable origin. And, of course, Gallery Furniture, which is a bit like the Taj Mahal of Stripcenterville. In any other part of town, it would be an amazing monument to entrepreneurship in Houston. Here, it's still all that, but it feels a bit like it should be surrounded by a moat and protected with dragons. Still, this is nothing compared to the oncoming freeway expansion and how this whole stretch will appear during those five-plus years or more. The end result could make for a much better commute to and from the airport, but the intervening time will encourage the Chamber of Commerce to send the shuttle bus down I-69 from Bush IAH instead of 45 and maybe convince Mattress Mac to invest in those dragons.

The Pierce Elevated

Plans have been kicked around about what to do with the aging elevated stretch of I-45 in downtown. They have ranged from a parkway-style thoroughfare to basically a park on stilts. Regardless, it will no longer be part of the freeway system and that does not bode well. The timing of the permanent shutdown is particularly precarious and will depend heavily on the changes to I-10 just north of downtown and, of course, I-69, which will both accommodate (hopefully) drivers used to using the Pierce. All we can say is while we don't disagree it is time for a change, we're just not sure we are 100 percent ready for it. Maybe TxDot could require drivers to abandon their cars before reaching downtown and give them a Valium and an Uber voucher.

The I-45/288/I-69 Interchange

In all honesty, we have zero idea how this is going to be handled. It's like how we fantasize about having a vacation home in Colorado where we can go beginning in July to skip the heat and the mosquitoes and the hurricanes. We dream about boarding up our house, surrounding it with metal barriers to keep out flood waters, turning off all the electricity and have some lovely crew come by and spruce it all up just before our return on October 1. We're not sure how our neighbors would like it, but it sounds like perfection to us. Now, imagine that feeling but it has to do with this disaster of an interchange and it lasts roughly a decade. We're not encouraging you to abandon Houston, but we wouldn't blame you if you got a vacation home, you know, just for like 15 years or so and considered boarding up downtown on your way out the door.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke