Bayou City

With I-45 Reroute, What Is to Become of the Pierce Elevated?

Here’s one re-imagining of the Pierce Elevated.
Here’s one re-imagining of the Pierce Elevated. Rendering by Page/Marcus Martinez

Completed in 1967, the elevated stretch of Interstate 45 running along the southern and western perimeter of downtown, known as the Pierce Elevated, has been a particularly difficult nut to crack when it comes to traffic. Thanks to development literally within feet of the structure, widening it has become a non-starter. As a result, TxDOT’s plan would move the entire traffic flow away from the southern and western sides of downtown and demolish the bridgelike freeway.

But not everyone thinks this is a good idea.

Not the changing-traffic-flow part, mind you. There has been nary a peep from anyone about the plan to get rid of traffic on that side of town. After all, the Pierce Elevated has acted as a barrier to development between the two most important parts of the Inner Loop — downtown and the Med Center — since it was built.

The argument is whether or not it should be razed in favor of a parkway-style thoroughfare (currently suggested by -TxDOT) or maybe kept and redeveloped as an elevated park similar to New York City's High Line or Dallas’s Klyde Warren. In a recent story on the Houston Press website, proponents of the “Pierce Skypark” said they were moving forward with plans regardless of the proposals laid out by TxDOT. “You can’t just wait until the day that -TxDOT asks you what to do with it,” says Tami Merrick, a representative of the architectural firm Page who is behind the project.

And there is enough interest in a park on Pierce that there’s a rival plan and website for the Page proposal, though it doesn’t appear to be nearly as well organized.

TxDOT, for its part, has no real stake in the plan since funding for any future park concepts will not come from its coffers. With the success of Buffalo Bayou Park and greater interest in urban outdoor activities in general, a park might make sense for the right price. But there are those who would prefer the whole thing be taken down, and no one is sure what the outcome will be.

For now, much like the rest of the freeway plan, everyone is in a holding pattern, but there is no doubt that the sweeping changes proposed in TxDOT’s expansion and the rival Pierce Elevated park plans would have a dramatic impact on the entire downtown area.

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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