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Flooding one of many maintenance needs on roadways

Wednesday, June 3, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Annemarie Gasser
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 From The Chronicle, Tuesday June 2, 2015


As discussed Monday, the challenge to solving some of the flooding woes along Houston area freeways is a matter of more drainage, which means more costs. 

“The bottom line is the freeway systems have some low spots and the cost to fix that is enormous,” said D. Wayne Klotz, president of Houston engineering firm Klotz and Associates and the former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Many of those repairs are dependent on funding, something state elected officials have struggled to find, Klotz said.

Veon McReynolds kayaks the flooded waters on Texas 288 at McGregor on May 26. (Photo: Thomas B. Shea/For the Chronicle)

Veon McReynolds kayaks the flooded waters on Texas 288 at McGregor on May 26. (Photo: Thomas B. Shea/For the Chronicle)

“TxDOT has been underfunded by $4 billion, maybe $5 billion, per year,” Klotz said. “It looks like (the state legislature) is addressing some of that for the kinds of improvements we’re talking about.”

State lawmakers have increased transportation funding and given voters a chance to increase it even more. A plan to dedicate about $2.5 billion annually to the state’s highway fund will go before voters in November.

“If passed by the voters, this legislation will be the largest single increase in transportation funding in Texas history,” said Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, who spearheaded the legislation through the General Assembly session.

The money has to be used on non-tolled highways, and doesn’t provide additional money for transit.

How much of that goes to projects that would help relieve flooding remains to be seen. The focus in Houston recently has been on congestion relief in suburban communities and operational fixes for urban highways.

In other words, even with more money, there’s a lot of needs beyond flooding.

Projects that don’t involve freeways also have a direct effect on their ability to remain open. The Harris County Flood Control District, for example, has a litany of projects along Brays Bayou that in turn would reduce roadway flooding. Another project to channel between Buffalo and White Oak bayous could relieve some of theI-45 pooling experiences.

In many spots, the concrete and asphalt on the roads are not the sole source of the problem. The unchecked spread of concrete and asphalt for shops, homes, driveways and parking lots that line the roads also contributes.

“Realistically this is all about impervious surfaces,” said Stephen Hupp, water quality director for the Bayou Preservation Association, and a resident of the Brays Bayou watershed, which experienced some of the most damaging flooding.

What those homes and shops replaced was acres of coastal prairie, which Hupp said acted as a sponge when the Houston area was deluged with rain.

“Now all that water is going downstream and into the bayou and it isn’t capable of handling it,” he said.

Current standards require new developments to account for their flood planning, leaving officials to play catch-up for developments built 30 and 40 years ago without much consideration for their watershed effects.

Brays Bayou is not the only area susceptible to flooding, Hupp said, just the one where the recent rains exposed the problem. During the next storm, it might be somewhere else. The Greens Bayou watershed, north of downtown Houston to around Bush Intercontinental Airport, has a huge residential population within the flood-prone area and low-lying streets, Hupp said.

Projects meant to relieve some of those problems are easy to identify, but difficult to complete with available funding. Though many projects along Brays and other bayous are complete or ongoing, Hupp said, sometimes a heavy rain and some flooding is necessary as a wake-up call to continue funding them, and show drivers where their commutes are contingent on water getting out of the way.

“The reality is sometimes when we have to have a reminder,” Hupp said.

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