Chris Rich is approaching 70 years old and trying to get in better shape, so he recently started walking up and down his street in Oak Forest Section 17.
Exercising has been especially enjoyable this week, because Hewitt Drive is calmer and clearer than it has been in almost three years.
Last weekend, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) partially closed Hewitt at its intersection with the U.S. 290 frontage road to prevent drivers from cutting through the neighborhood. That same work was done a little to the northwest at the intersection of Berendo Drive and the frontage road.
Cut-through traffic had been a problem on Berendo and Hewitt since the fall of 2017, when TxDOT moved the entrance and exit ramps along the frontage road just west of the subdivision, which is west of Antoine Drive and south of West 43rd Street. The switched improved traffic flow on 290 but also enabled drivers to use Berendo and Hewitt as shortcuts.
“It was so nice to be able to go for a walk and not have to fear about being run over by a truck,” Rich said. “I think we have reclaimed our neighborhood.”
Petitions for traffic-calming measures submitted to the City of Houston in recent years – efforts led by Rich and Berendo resident Don Davis – helped lead to the solution. So did a May 2019 story about the issue published in The Leader, which Davis said he shared with Houston City Council member Mike Knox, who then reached out to TxDOT in an attempt to address the problem.
Davis and Rich also thanked city council member Abbie Kamin, who represents District C and said she contacted TxDOT to help expedite the work once it garnered the support of the neighborhood and Houston Public Works over the summer. TxDOT spokesperson Deidrea George said in August that the partial street closures, which cost about $55,000 to implement, would begin before the end of the year.
“It was a big surprise to see that happen at the end of September, basically,” Davis said. “I didn’t expect it.”
George said TxDOT maintenance crews started the project last Saturday and, weather permitting, should complete it by next week. As of Tuesday, raised concrete islands with wheelchair-accessible ramps had been installed on the east sides of Berendo and Hewitt where they meet the frontage road – denying access to those streets from the frontage road but allowing vehicles to exit the neighborhood – and “do not enter” signs had been placed on each island.
TxDOT controls the right of way along the frontage road, while the neighborhood streets are the responsibility of the city.
“I’m grateful to TxDOT for being so responsive and getting construction going ahead of schedule,” Kamin said. “Neighbors have been working tirelessly to see this project through, and after months of working with Houston Public Works and TxDOT, it’s exciting to see it finally happen.”
Rich, who said he doubted the work would be done until he witnessed it, said it’s an example that government can work for its citizens and that the “little guy can win.” His wife, Sandra, wrote a thank you note to Kamin’s office for its help and said residents “are overwhelmed by the silence from the streets.”
The Riches have lived on Hewitt since 1984.
“I am so excited that we have returned to normal again,” Chris Rich said. “We once again have the peaceful neighborhood that I moved into. That’s why I live here.”