Lane closings are scheduled to start soon along Allen Parkway – slowing traffic – so workers can complete a redesign of the road – meant to slow traffic.
The long-planned overhaul, which will add parking along Buffalo Bayou’s popular trail system and improve connections between the parkway and intersecting streets, starts next Monday, officials with the Houston Downtown Redevelopment Authority said. Work on the $11 million redesign should conclude before the Free Press Summer Festival at Eleanor Tinsley Park in late May or early June.
In the interim, motorists on the parkway will have fewer lanes in some places and will lose access to certain streets for a few weeks. The payoff, eventually, will be a much better, slower parkway, officials said.
“For us this project has been about safe access and parking,” said Ryan Leach, executive director of the downtown redevelopment authority. “Safety was foremost in our minds and getting access to this great asset we have been building for the past few years.”
Joggers and cyclists now must make a mad dash from one side of the parkway to the other.
“It’s Frogger,” said Cliff Eason, 30, comparing the trip to a video game.
Eason said he often runs up Taft to the bayou trails, using the parkway median as a stopping point.
“I admit it,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “It’s stupid.”
By the time thousands descend on the music festival – which downtown officials said will return to the bayou from its site this year at NRG Park – the parkway will be a parkway again. It will still have three traffic lanes in each direction, but with wider, tree-lined medians and improved pedestrian crossings at Taft, Gillette and Dunlavy. A special pedestrian crossing signal will be installed at Park Vista Drive, making it much easier to access Buffalo Bayou and the park and trail system from south of the parkway.
City officials say the changes are vital to make the most of the bayou park system and to return Allen Parkway to its intended purpose as a slow drive. As changes were made over the years to help facilitate automobile traffic, many drivers got into the habit of speeding up.
Drivers on the road commonly exceed the 40 mph posted limit. A number of high-profile crashes also have occurred on the road, including a 2009 crash that killed lawyer John O’Quinn. Investigators said O’Quinn was speeding on the rain-slicked street and he and a passenger, Johnny Lee Cutliff, were not wearing seat belts. Cutliff also died in the accident.
In addition to crossings and intersection changes, the project will add another critical component for access to the park: parking. By shifting the parkway south – eliminating a frontage road that runs along the eastbound lanes – officials are adding 149 diagonal parking spaces along the bayou trail.
There are no plans to meter the spaces, though they will have time limits, redevelopment authority officials said.
Though the project extends from Dunlavy to downtown where the parkway ends at Sabine, the bulk of the work is between Montrose and Interstate 45, said Lonnie Hoogeboom, director of planning and design for the redevelopment authority. Work will happen in three stages, with the first two leading to various inbound and outbound lane closings. During much of the work, properties south of the parkway will lose direct access to the road, leaving them limited options to enter and exit via nearby streets.
From roughly mid-August to mid-October, the intersection at Gillette will close so crews can do underground electrical work related to a traffic signal, Hoogeboom said. Once Gillette is reopened, the intersection at Taft will close.
During the third phase of work, scheduled to start in mid-March, the three new eastbound lanes will be open, though only two westbound lanes will be open in some spots.
‘A small inconvenience’
The Allen Parkway work will proceed faster than some other nearby construction projects – notably the city’s total reconstruction of Shepherd to install a major drainage line – because it requires little digging or utility work, said Hoogeboom. Though Allen Parkway is a popular commuting route, Hoogeboom said he didn’t anticipate serious traffic jams.
“I use it every day, and I would not imagine I will adjust my travel patterns,” he said. “I think it will carry the same volume, people will just have to slow down.”
After the redesign, the speed limit will decrease to 35 mph. An analysis by Walter P Moore, an engineering firm, estimated travel times on Allen would increase by 50 seconds during peak commuting times.
“That is a small inconvenience and I think a small price to pay for better access to the park,” Leach said.