Imagine downtown Houston with a wide parkway right down its southwestern edge no longer blocked by a massive elevated freeway which currently highlights a giant neon cross and a ton of traffic at all times of the day. This is one proposed option being offered by TXDOT as part of a massive overhaul to one of the city's most thoroughly trafficked freeways and also one of its ugliest. For years, the blight along one of two arteries leading directly to our largest airport -- from strip malls and abandoned car dealerships to strip clubs and decaying apartment buildings -- has been a sore spot for residents, but a plan is getting underway to change the scope of Interstate 45 from downtown to the Beltway.
Typical freeway expansion plans are of course part of the concept, but perhaps the most intriguing options include how the Pierce Elevated is handled.
The plan alternative would include adding multiple lanes of traffic behind George R. Brown Convention Center alongside Highway 59 to reroute the flow of traffic away from its current location. The change could have a dramatic impact on that side of downtown -- though too many added lanes of traffic could also have the opposite effect on other areas.
The Pierce Elevated was constructed in 1961, a part if a huge freeway program designed to move traffic more quickly through downtown north and south. Today, it not only increases the bottleneck in town, it serves as a rather ugly divider between downtown and the Medical Center. This plan clearly aims to change that.
Having lived in Houston my entire life, it is both remarkable and strange to find government entities actually taking into account how things look as well as how they work. The very idea of destroying the Pierce Elevated in favor of a sprawling parkway makes for an intriguing concept in line with these new ways of thinking. Of course, one of the other alternate plans is to increase the size of the PE from six to 10 lanes, so I'm not going to hold my breath.
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But a change as drastic as this does represent a real opportunity to literally alter the landscape of a city that has long considered such things trivial. That's something.