If you're one of thousands of Houstonians who frequently travel down Allen Parkway, you're about to have to slow down — permanently.
An extensive $11 million redesign of the busy thoroughfare includes a speed limit reduction from 40 mph — which drivers frequently exceed — to 35 mph. Lane closures will begin next Monday (August 3) as construction on the project begins, according to officials from the Downtown Redevelopment Authority.
Work on the project — which has an anticipated end date of May 23, 2016, just in time for Free Press Summer Fest in Eleanor Tinsley Park — means fewer lanes will be available to motorists and access to certain streets may be limited for several weeks.
Construction on the three-phase project, which runs from Dunlavy to Sabine street, will predominantly take place between Montrose and Interstate 45, says Lonnie Hoogeboom, director of planning and design for the Houston Downtown Management District.
For nearly 10 months, certain parts of Allen Parkway will undergo a serious transformation, meaning motorists may need to find alternate routes at times.
During the first phase — scheduled through the end of December — work will begin at the Dunlavy intersection and continue to the traffic signal at Gillette, causing the intersection to close from approximately mid-August to mid-October, according to the Downtown Redevelopment Authority. Work will also begin on Allen Parkway's main lanes and southern frontage road. When Gillette reopens, the intersection at the parkway and Taft will close.
Following the completion of the first phase, eastbound traffic will utilize the southernmost lanes and driveway access to all properties on the southern side of Allen Parkway will be restored.
Phase two — scheduled for the end of November to mid-March 2016 — includes construction of a U-turn bridge on the west side of Waugh Drive, as well as work on the parkway's main lanes and the reconstruction of the central portion of the roadway. Once the second phase is completed, westbound traffic will use the central portion of roadway and access at the Gillette and Taft intersections will be fully restored.
The third phase, scheduled for mid-March 2016, will see the opening of three eastbound lanes, although in certain spots, only two westbound lanes will be open. Additionally, the current westbound lanes and the access road along the northern portion of parkway, adjacent to Buffalo Bayou Park, will be converted to diagonal parking spaces. Sidewalk work and landscaping between the Walker Street and Interstate 45 / Sabine Street merge ramps will complete the project in mid-May.
What to expect with construction
For nearly 10 months, certain parts of Allen Parkway will undergo a serious transformation, meaning motorists may need to find alternate routes at times, although Ryan Leach, executive director of the Downtown Redevelopment Authority, says he doesn't expect it to be a major change.
The frontage road that runs along the eastbound lanes will be eliminated and 149 diagonal parking spaces will be added.
"Although there will be small changes to traffic patterns in order to accommodate the realignment we don't anticipate a significant negative impact," Leach says. "People will still have access to the parkway but may consider alternative routes like Memorial if they have concerns."
Upcoming changes to the parkway will leave three lanes in each direction and will include wider medians and pedestrian-friendly crossings at Taft, Gillette and Dunlavy, as well as a pedestrian crossing signal at Park Vista Drive. The frontage road that runs along the eastbound lanes will be eliminated — facilitated by shifting the parkway south — and 149 diagonal parking spaces will be added. Leach says that while the city has not officially determined the access or usage of these spaces, he anticipates that time limits will be enforced.
The primary objective of the realignment of Allen Parkway is to improve public safety and access to Buffalo Bayou Park, especially given that the park's renovations are nearly complete, according to Leach.
"We have shared these plans in several public meetings, as well as in meetings with businesses and neighborhood associations in close proximity to the park," Leach says. "Overall, the response to the reduced speed limit has been a positive one. Many of the folks who live in and around the area shared stories with us about the number of vehicular accidents and the dangerous rates of speed that they have witnessed. I think many neighbors are relieved that the additional crosswalks and the reduced speed may help prevent any future accidents on the parkway."
While the speed limit adjustment might sound like a rather significant change to some, an analysis by engineering firm Walter P Moore estimated travel times would increase by around 50 seconds during peak commuting times, according to a report from the Houston Chronicle.
"The reduction in speed limit and additional traffic signals will slow and stage traffic more effectively," says Hoogeboom, especially referring to the improvements expected in traffic flow at the intersection at Shepherd and Allen Parkway.
"The bigger picture is that the area is now a neighborhood, so connecting to the park is not just for cars, but for people to cross safely," says Angie Bertinot, director of marketing and communications for the Houston Downtown Management District.
"Allen Parkway will still be a fantastic way to get from point A to point B."