A Third of the Way Into 2021 and Houston Highways Are Setting New Records For Crazy

Houston isn't at DEFCON 1 on roadways yet, but we are getting there.
Houston isn't at DEFCON 1 on roadways yet, but we are getting there. Screenshot
Just when you thought it was safe to get back on the freeway, the Houston area once again rolls out the red carpet of crazy. Normally, traffic warnings might include freeway closures, hazardous chemical spills, hundreds of nighttime bicyclists or people stopping in the middle of the highway for a marriage proposal (we wish we were kidding). All frustrating and weird, but mostly avoidable and routine in the fourth largest city in the country.

But, 2020, despite a lack of traffic thanks to the pandemic, was still one of the most deadly years on Houston-area roadways in quite sometime. And it looks like 2021 is going to be just as anomalous.

In the first third of the year (yes, we are already through a third of 2021), we've had more than our share of Florida level insanity.

First, there are the simple things like the frequent closings of the I-69 at the West Loop interchange as they work on a long-term plan to fix what has been one of the most accident-prone stretches of road in the entire state. Parts of it have already opened thanks to extra time for closures during the pandemic, but we still have quite a ways to go at one of the busiest traffic spots in the city.

If that weren't enough, we have Interstate 45 and the fight that continues to rage over its expansion and widening. Groups from all sides including the city and county have been battling over the plans set in motion by TxDOT for one of the most highly anticipated and ambitious freeway construction plans ever.

Spots within the inner city have balked at the plan that would impact hundreds of businesses and residents along the corridor. Many of the areas most drastically affected are low income. The new infrastructure plan put forth by the Biden administration has promised to help reconnect areas divided by highways, something that was traditionally done through impoverished areas and neighborhoods where residents are mostly people of color.

However, those who support the plan, particularly those who live in the suburbs, have pushed back against the city and county, and the area's regional transportation recently gave the thumbs up for the plan. It seems we can't even agree on how to eliminate traffic.

Oh, and did we mention 45 north at Quitman will be closed the next two weekends? Good luck with that.

But those are the kinds of things we expect living here. We don't always plan for things like flaming Teslas.

On a recent Saturday night in The Woodlands, a pair of riders (more on that in a moment) were killed when the Tesla they were in hit a tree. If you are thinking, "Was the driver not injured?" you'd be forgiven because the Tesla in question had no driver. It was driverless. Even more startling, the car apparently burned for hours thanks to the electric batteries that power the vehicle.

It is as tragic as it is completely bizarre. Investigators are trying to determine what happened, but Tesla is disputing that no one was in the driver's seat and that autopilot could even be engaged given the conditions at the time.

Finally, we have news that SH-288 is apparently falling apart. Giant cracks emerged on 288 heading south at the South Loop, the very area that has been undergoing construction for years now. The cracks are believed to be structural failings, which seems pretty bad since it is so new. We cannot help but think about movies where the earth splits open during an earthquake.

Look, none of this is Hollywood disaster-level awful. This isn't Volcano, where Tommy Lee Jone and Anne Heche must save Los Angeles when a dormant volcano under the La Brea tar pits erupts (we are NOT kidding), but it is Houston and just about anything is possible these days.

Be safe out there.
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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