Thursday, June 5, 2014

South Belt Improvements Summer 1987

Eight years ago this month, South Belt residents were in the midst of tropical storm Claudette.

On July 21, 1979 the skies unleashed 26 inches of rain and homes throughout the area became wading pools. Residents could only take nature in stride and hustle to putting their homes back to normal.

But when one or two inches of rain on Sept. 1 flooded homes in the area, residents decided to take action. A meeting was scheduled for Sept. 19 with Harris County Flood Control officials invited.

The day of the meeting brought rain and many joked that Sagemont would be flooded out of their meeting. Many residents were forced to walk to Stuchberry Elementary for the meeting due to rising street water.

During the meeting, one resident looked outside and noticed the rising water. He yelled to the others that they had better leave. Many waded home in hip-deep water only to find water in their homes for a second time in two months.

As if to play a cruel joke on Flood Control officials, their vehicles were stuck in the rising water. The officials experienced the true South Belt floods.

At the beginning of June this year, torrential downpours once again inundated the South Belt area. From June 10 to 12 about 14 inches of rain fell on the area. But one thing was very noticeable -- homes did not flood.

Several reasons can be cited for this dramatic change. One of the most important changes was the advent of stringent drainage controls. No longer are developers allowed to pave acres of land or build homes adding to already burdened drainage systems.

Drainage projects

Along with developing a strictly followed drainage policy, Green has been instrumental in initiating drainage projects. Since the 1979 flood, over $20 million has been spent in the South Belt area on construction of and maintenance to enhance drainage. 

Five Beamer Road bridges, and five other area bridges were rebuilt. The Beamer Road ditch was excavated and portions were concrete-lined. The Sagedowne ditch was given a flap gate for relief and new ditches added. 

A 36-acre detention pond was dug adjacent to the Southbend Subdivision and the Choate Road baseball fields. A ditch channels water into the pond where the water is held until Clear Creek can handle it. The pond was built on a 75-acre tract donated by Aryshire Development Corp. and Mortgage and Trust. If necessary, the pond may be expanded in the future. 

Greene still has other projects he feels are necessary for flood prevention. The first of these is an entire Clear Creek watershed master plan. A detention pond on Turkey Creek between Beamer Rd. and Dixie Farm Road (formerly Choate Rd.) is also on the drawing boards. This second detention pond has become necessary as other projects drain upstream areas more efficiently, thus increasing the amount of water downstream areas are being forced to handle, said Green. The cost of digging the detention pond is estimated at $1 million.

Green's plans for South Belt area ditch construction and renovation are estimated to total $4.5 million. Green also hopes to extend the concrete lining of the Beamer ditch to the Kingspoint bridge. . .

The South Belt area is on the road to recovery, literally that is, to the tune of some $18 million.

For many, the massive city, county and state road improvements all within a nine-square-miles area are a hard pill to swallow and the area could have taken a smaller dose had the various entities applied the "ounce of prevention" maxim years ago.

Others, however, yield to the improvements simply as growing pains and look forward to healthy benefits the business community and residents alike will enjoy "down the road."

Completion of Fuqua to Highway 3

After several years of delays, the small stretch of land lying between Fuqua and Highway 3 will finally be completed. Several year ago, Morris Development Corp. contracted to pave the four-lane roadway. However, the corporation went bankrupt following the demise of Mainland Savings and was unable to complete the project. Approximately 200 feet of the potential thoroughfare remained unpaved. The city of Houston has now agreed to complete the extension, according to Matt Fu, manager of Street and Bridge Engineering.

It is anticipated the project will be completed by the end of this year with an estimated cost of $100,000 to the city.

Freeway ramp additions
Improvements to the Gulf Freeway are underway as the State Department of Highways and Public Transportation is currently in the preliminary stages of constructing temporary ramps and revising the two existing ramps.

The ramp projects have been on the drawing boards for several years and were originally approved by the Federal Highway Administration in July 1984. A $349,000 contract was awarded to Hubco, Inc. earlier this year to complete the ramp project.

Included among the construction plans . . . . the State Department of Highways and Public Transportation, these ramps will be replaced with permanent ramps as a part of the Gulf Freeway reconstruction and widening project schedules to take place in three years.

Completion of the temporary ramps is expected in September, according to Charles Frey, resident engineer.

Overpass reconstruction
Construction on the Fuqua and Scarsdale Boulevard overpasses began about three weeks ago. Contracts for the work were originally to be let in June 1986.  but delays set the building back some 10 months.

Plans include widening the overpasses from one lane in each direction to two lanes. Work will be performed by Industrial Contractors, Inc. Along with the overpass revision, plans include heightening the bridges and removing the center posts to accommodate the Metro transitway which is included in upcoming Gulf Freeway improvements.

The $4.9 million project is mostly federally funded, with partial funding by Metro.

Work on the Scarsdale overpass began with the closing of the bridge. During the reconstruction, traffic leaving Scarsdale travelling north is being diverted on he access road to the Dixie Farm road overpass. Traffic entering Scarsdale must exit the Gulf Freeway at South Belt and travel along the access roads, Frey stated.

The Fuqua bridge will remain open during the 18 months of construction as the new section of the bridge is built. When the first two lanes are completed on the south side of the existing bridge, traffic will be diverted to it while the older bridge is removed. The additional two lanes will then be added to the structure.

Fuqua to Telephone

Construction on the extension of Fuqua from Kingspoint to Telephone Road is currently . . . . was awarded to the Beyer-Schindler Construction Inc. to build the four-lane esplanaded stretch.

Many groups, including the South Belt-Ellington Chamber of Commerce, had hoped to delay the Fuqua extension until the revision of the Fuqua overpass at the Gulf Freeway had been completed.

"The immediate problem is that the increased traffic going through the area to Pasadena, I-45, or Highway 3 will cause a bottleneck at the Fuqua overpass because of the construction," BIll Morgan, Chamber president said.

Beltway 8

The 2.9 stretch of Beltway 8 from Fairmont Parkway of Highway 3 (Old Galveston Road) was recently opened to traffic. As the Beltway inches its way to the South Belt area, residents are closer to being able to travel from the ship channel into the South Belt area.

Currently, Beltway 8 stops at the Ellington Field Golf Course. A temporary connection from the golf course  to Highway 3 will be completed within one month to six weeks. This road will allow traffic to come from the ship channel to Highway 3, Frey said.

Construction of the 1.6-mile section from Highway 3 to I-45 at South Belt is anticipated to take 14 to 16 months, Frey said. A contract for the $9.2 million project was awarded to J.D. Abrams, INC. in October 1986 and originally called for 225 working days. Crews began mobilizing in January.

The 1.6-mile stretch from I-45 to Beamer is expected to be complete in mid-1991.

The widening of Beamer Road from two to four lanes from Scarsdale Boulevard to the Southbend Subdivision is complete. However, the new road will not be opened until the bridge connecting the two sides of Beamer at Memorial Southeast Hospital is complete. The hospital bridge is currently under construction. The project should take four to six months to complete. The bridge is being built by Ramex Construction Company at a cost of $330,000. It is being jointly funded by Harris County, Ayrshire Corporation and Memorial Southeast Hospital.

Community reacts to projects

Community reaction toward the road construction and detours has been mixed. According to Morgan, most of the changes will eventually be good. However, it is causing a major inconvenience right now, he added.

"It will help the economic development of the area, make the area more accessible and help us commute within out area better," he said.

Scarsdale construction

Not only is the Scarsdale Boulevard overpass barricaded, the state has also blocked Scarsdale Boulevard between the Gulf Freeway and Highway 3. In conjunction with the Harris County Flood Control District, the state is installing a culvert to enhance drainage of Beltway 8.

Scarsdale, beginning at the Gulf Freeway and continuing to Highway 3, will be closed approximately 10 to 14 weeks, Frey said. The sigh originally placed by the highway department says the road will be closed 26 weeks.

The Chamber has yet to receive any complaints from local businesses due to the detours. However, Morgan feels that the construction and detours might adversely affect businesses that depend on drive-by customers.

According to Morgan, the Chamber has maintained contact with the city, county or state and the contractors so that the work is done expeditiously. However, he said, there is more that the Chamber can do .

Mary Obenauf, immediate past president of the Sagemont Civic Club and a South Belt Coalition and a South Belt Coalition steering committee member, feels that the community will be adversely affected.

"It's a lack of coordination on the highway department's part," she said. "They don't think about residents because they are on a budget." Confusion and delays are going to frustrate residents as they try to make their way around the community. However, Obenauf added, in two or three years, residents will be happy with the completed projects and could very well be faced with new improvements. 

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