Harvey is long gone, but Houston’s traffic headaches continue for the fourth straight day.
Hundreds of thousands of drivers are still trying to find any way they can to get across the flooded Buffalo Bayou and navigate around closed roads, especially the Sam Houston Tollway.
The southbound lanes between Interstate 10 and Briar Forest remained closed Friday, even though the northbound lanes re-opened Thursday afternoon. With sections of nearby arterial streets (Eldridge Parkway, Dairy Ashford Road, Kirwood Road, and Wilcrest Drive) also closed over the bayou, drivers are maneuvering through surrounding streets and contributing to gridlock around the city.
Officials with the Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) hope by “early next week”, the Sam Houston Tollway southbound lanes will re-open along the stretch, which sees about 200,000 cars per day.
Even the man overseeing the repair of those lanes says he’s not immune from the gridlock their closure is causing.
“I’m just like everybody here in Houston on the west side,” said John Tyler, Deputy Director of Engineering for HCTRA. “It’s impacting me just like them.”
Tyler says the heavy rain from Hurricane Harvey and flooding from Buffalo Bayou that followed caused the pavement to “heave” 15 inches.
“The water pressure was so great it actually lifted the road up in the air, so that’s what we’re replacing,” said Tyler.
That process all started more than 16 feet above the main lanes at a massive sinkhole on the southbound frontage road.
“It had already started to develop, and then when the rains came, it just made it worse,” said Karen Othon of TxDOT. “That’s when all of that happened.”
Tyler says the water went down into the sinkhole behind the retaining wall and created a tunnel where it flowed underneath the pavement.
“It was trying to find its least resistance, and unfortunately it was in the middle of our road,” he said.
On Friday afternoon, Harris County Toll Road Authority crews below began repaving two of the lanes after using cameras to check for any damage to the storm drain pipes underneath. At the same time, TxDOT crews began filling the sinkhole with concrete and were planning to later put in steel rebar in the frontage road area before pouring concrete.
Both crews are hoping the skies will stay clear to help clear out the gridlock as fast as possible.
“According to the weatherman, Mr. (David) Paul, it’s not supposed to rain this week,” said Tyler. “That’s good construction weather.”
Tyler says as soon as TxDOT finishes their repairs, HCTRA crews can remove braces on the retaining wall and replace the final two of four lanes needing repairs.
Othon said TxDOT does not believe there are additional sinkholes around other Houston-area freeways. She says inspectors checked out every freeway that was flooded and made sure it was safe to re-open before doing so.