Chimney Rock and South Rice Bridge Reconstruction – Call For Action

Chimney Rock and South Rice Bridge Reconstruction

By Charles Goforth

Project Brays includes the reconstruction of the Chimney Rock and South Rice bridges at North and South Braeswood. The bridges are to be elevated 3 to 5 feet. The original plan as stated by the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) was to stagger the building of the bridges in order that one of the bridges at each location would be fully functional while the other bridge was being rebuilt and elevated. This would result in the other bridge having north/south passage but with just one span. This is no longer the plan.

HCFCD now states that due to the 3 to 5-foot street surface elevation that is required for the bridge reconstruction, it is impossible to keep one span open while work is being done on the other span. The current plan now indicates complete closure of all north/south vehicular and pedestrian traffic for the duration of the construction (estimated at 8-10 months for each bridge, i.e., Chimney Rock and South Rice). In addition, the east/west traffic on North and South Braeswood will be reduced to one lane in each direction with restrictions on being able to turn off Braeswood at Chimney Rock and South Rice.

This new plan by HCFCD will result in numerous problems including, but not limited to:

  1. Traffic rerouted through the nearby neighborhoods for months on end.
  2. Impediment of first responders’ access to locations where needed.
  3. Walkers and bikers using the bridges will now be forced to travel to the next adjacent bridge, cross over and walk or bike back (approximately 1 mile).
  4. Trucks and buses may not be able to make right hand turns which will force them to go through the neighborhoods.
  5. Lengthy delays in getting kids to and from school.
  6. Increase of lost time, aggravation and accidents.

Other concerns include the voluminous storm water flow from west to east that North and South Braeswood currently convey when the bayou water level reaches the height of the Braeswood streets. The street level is several feet lower than the top of the bayou. This means the streets are already flooding before the bayou goes over its banks. The Braeswood streets’ gradient (slope) mimics the slope of Brays Bayou and is designed to flow toward the ship channel thus moving the storm water from west to east. The elevation of the Chimney Rock and S. Rice bridges will encumber the flow of storm water and there is a high likelihood that the water will backup and consequently move through the upstream neighborhoods (those neighborhoods west of the elevated bridges).

Here is an idea:

My alternative to HCFCD’s current plan is to rebuild the bridges and intersections back to the same configuration that exists today except build a single span bridge and undivided intersection. Examples include the intersections at Beechnut and Chimney Rock and West Bellfort at Chimney Rock. Both areas have two lanes of north/south traffic as you approach the intersection with one dedicated left-hand and right-hand turn lanes. After passing through the intersection, the street is again reduced from three to two lanes of north/south traffic. More traffic will pass through the intersection on a shorter light cycle thus allowing for longer east/west light cycles.

In order to accomplish this, large culverts can be placed in the north/south ditch which will bring the currently split north/south traffic together at the intersection. This also results in only one set of east/west traffic lights instead of the deadly and confusing double light setup that currently exists. (This is like what was done at the Beechnut and West Bellfort at Chimney Rock intersections.)

The one-span bridge can be constructed between the existing spans. This would result in the existing bridges remaining open until the one-span bridge is complete and all north/south traffic would also remain the same during construction.

The downside to this plan is the cost. These bridges are 60 years old and but for the flood reduction project, they may have lasted another 60 years. The new bridges should be expected to last for at least 100 years so why not spend the extra money and do it right while keeping the intersections and bridges open during construction?

The savings could come from the following:

  1. Four sets of east/west traffic lights instead of eight sets.
  2. Chimney Rock and South Rice bridges could be rebuilt at the same time, thereby drastically reducing the  construction time.
  3. Possibly no need for the city to acquire the two privately owned properties at South Rice and South Braeswood.
  4. Will reduce the costly impact to the commercial properties at Chimney Rock.
  5. Will require only two sets of exterior bridge walls and guard rails instead of four for each crossing.

Under Project Brays the HCFCD can only replace, or comparable expense, what they impact during the federal flood reduction project. They cannot extend themselves to do a mobility improvement project. This is where the city of Houston, Metro, HGAC and other entities need to step up and coordinate with HCFCD. HCFCD is already committed to spending big to rebuild. Spending a fraction more now to implement the alternative plan seems smart compared to what it will cost to come back in the future and rebuild.

This may not be the perfect solution, but it seems better than what has been presented to us. The one-span bridge option offers no traffic nightmares during construction and the finished product will be safer, less confusing and will be able to handle the increased traffic loads.

How to help:

  • Let your thoughts be known by contacting District C Council Member Cohen, At-Large council members, COH Mayor, etc. Click here for a sample letter you can send
  • Contact any elected official at any level of government that represents the Brays Bayou area from 610 to Hillcroft.
  • Let your opinion be known on any social media platform, including Facebook, NextDoor, etc.
  • If you would like to get more involved, please contact me on NextDoor or at braysbayou@gmail.com.
  • If you would like to petition the current proposed plan for the Chimney Rock and S. Rice bridges and intersections, please respond to braysbayou@gmail.com with the subject line: “Bridge Petition” and include your name and any other comments.

 

Elected Official Contact information:

Commissioner Precinct 1 Rodney Ellis – 713-274-1000
Comm_Ellis@cp1.hctx.net
1001 Preston, 9th Floor

Houston, Texas 77002

Commissioner Precinct 3 Steve Radack – 713 755-6306
pct3@pct3.com
1001 Preston, 9th Floor

Houston, Texas 77002

Commissioner Precinct 2 Adrian Garcia – 713-755-6220
adrian.garcia@pct2.hctx.net
1001 Preston, Rm. 924

Houston, Texas 77002

Commissioner Precinct 4 R. Jack Cagle – 713-274-4000
commissionercagle@hcp4.net
1001 Preston, Suite 950

Houston, Texas 77002

County Judge Lina Hidalgo – 713-274-7000
judge.hidalgo@cjo.hctx.net
1001 Preston, Suite 911
Houston, Texas 77002

Mike Knox – 832-393-3014
atlarge1@houstontx.gov
City Hall Annex

900 Bagby, First Floor

Houston, TX 77002

David Robinson – 832-393-3013
atlarge2@houstontx.gov
City Hall Annex

900 Bagby, First Floor

Houston, TX 77002

Michael Kubosh – 832-393-3005
atlarge3@houstontx.gov
City Hall Annex

900 Bagby, First Floor

Houston, TX 77002

Amanda Edwards – 832-393-3012
atlarge4@houstontx.gov
City Hall Annex

900 Bagby, First Floor

Houston, TX 77002

Jack Christie – 832-393-3017
atlarge5@houstontx.gov
City Hall Annex

900 Bagby, First Floor

Houston, TX 77002

Ellen R. Cohen – 832-393-3004
DistrictC@houstontx.gov
City Hall Annex

900 Bagby, First Floor

Houston, TX 77002

Mayor Sylvester Turner
mayor@houstontx.gov

City of Houston

P.O. Box 1562

Houston, TX 77251