June 22, 2017

2-to-1 Partnership with TxDOT Adds Drainage to 610/59 Interchange Project, Renews Focus on Long-Term Needs

The IH-610 drainage system is a major component of our storm water infrastructure.  Unfortunately, its woefully insufficient capacity also makes it a major problem contributing to flooding.  During heavy rainfall events the freeway tends to act as a dam to the general flow of runoff, causing water levels to rise on the frontage roads, rendering them impassable.  As rain continues to fall with nowhere else to go, it backs up into the adjacent neighborhoods.  Simply put, even with some improvements made in 2000 the 50-plus-year-old system is outdated and severely undersized.

The City of Bellaire has for years raised the issue with TxDOT, but without any construction projects to tie it to we’ve not made much progress.  The impending 610/59 interchange project presented just such an opportunity, and we’re very pleased that TxDOT has responded to our renewed requests.  This week the City Council approved an agreement to partner with TxDOT in funding a new 10’ x 8’ box culvert adjacent to the interchange project, running 1,850 linear feet from just south of Westpark down to Glenmont.  Of the $3 million estimated cost, the City will contribute $1 million and TxDOT will fund the rest, including any overages.  By any measure this is a terrific deal for Bellaire.

This cost-sharing project was presciently foretold in the City Engineer’s landmark drainage study last September.  The study demonstrates the need for TxDOT to increase the conveyance capacity of the 610 system over the long-term, and in the meantime recommends that interim improvements be incorporated as an additional component to the interchange project.  The shared funding agreement does just that.  It’s also consistent with the overarching change in approach recommended by the study, favoring upsized capacity for underground detention in strategic locations, at least until further downstream improvements are in place to receive greater volumes of conveyance.

The 610/59 interchange project would not otherwise include this extra drainage work that we requested.  TxDOT cites its baseline responsibility as only to mitigate any increased runoff caused by the interchange expansion.  In other words, to preserve the status quo by not making things any worse from new construction.  We asked TxDOT to go above and beyond that standard to bring about a meaningful improvement to the status quo.  That’s the basis for our participation in the cost, and even then TxDOT's 2x contribution is on top of what they were already doing.

Residents in the flood-prone area south (i.e., downstream) of the interchange understandably questioned whether the proposed improvements could inadvertently shift the problem their way, by overloading the system.  That’s certainly a valid concern, and was discussed extensively in Council’s deliberation.  The City Engineer and Director of Public Works emphasized the difference between straight conveyance without restriction, and detention with metered outfall.  Specifically, to prevent adverse impacts downstream the flow will be regulated by an appropriately-sized restrictor, effectively converting the box culvert to a linear underground detention facility.  If anything, it should help the downstream situation somewhat by reducing the volume flowing in that direction.  At some point in the future, the restrictor could be reduced or even eliminated as additional system capacity is brought online.  As noted above, this approach is right in keeping with the recommendations of the City Engineer’s September drainage study.

Having thus confirmed the basis for cost-participation, and that the project design will ensure there are no adverse impacts to residents downstream, the benefits to Bellaire are clear.  (1) Most obvious is that we’re getting a 2-to-1 return on our money, and possibly even more since our contribution is fixed and TxDOT would be responsible for any overages.  (2) While our Comprehensive Plan is driving strong commercial redevelopment activity elsewhere in Bellaire, the lack of drainage infrastructure near the interchange remains the major impediment to redevelopment of the UV-T (Urban Village-Transit) zoning district.  This project will help considerably.  (3) This is only the beginning of our partnership with TxDOT on improvements to the 610 drainage system.  We are committed to working together in co-sponsoring future phases, with requests for additional state and federal funding assistance.  Of course, even if that doesn’t materialize as hoped this project alone is still a great outcome for Bellaire.

Though admittedly rather small in the grand scheme, this drainage segment is an important first step toward upgrading and updating the 610 system to meet modern demands.  The City of Bellaire expresses our sincere appreciation to TxDOT, and in particular Houston District Engineer Quincy D. Allen and his team, for working so diligently and cooperatively with us on both the interchange project and our request for this additional drainage component.