A road reconstruction project that aims to transform travel in the Heights has been approved to receive federal funding.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded a $25 million grant for the Memorial Heights Redevelopment Authority’s Shepherd and Durham Major Investment Project, which plans to overhaul two major arteries in the Heights. The project is designed to improve safety and drainage infrastructure while making Shepherd Drive and Durham Drive — which are parallel, one-way streets running north and south — more accessible to cyclists and pedestrians.
“Houston is changing at a rapid rate,” U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a supporter of the project, said in a statement released by his office. “Not only is it growing in population, but the way we get around is also evolving. It is imperative that our infrastructure accommodates these changes.”
The grant is for the first phase of the project, which will reconstruct Shepherd and Durham between 15th Street and North Loop 610, and will require matching local funding from the Memorial Heights Redevelopment Authority, also known as Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone 5. TIRZ 5 president Sherry Weesner, whose organization is allocated a portion of municipal tax revenue, said completion of the first phase is targeted for 2025.
The plan calls for reconfiguring Shepherd and Durham from four lanes each to three lanes apiece, with designated turning lanes to be added at select intersections. Sidewalks on both sides of each street will be expanded from 4 feet to 6 feet, and 5-foot bike lanes will be added. The plan, according to the grant application on the TIRZ 5 website, also calls for landscape buffers to be created on both sides of the bike lanes and sidewalks.
The project also entails replacing the public utilities beneath each street with upgraded water and sewage lines and stormwater detention infrastructure.
There will be new, repositioned transit stops as well with the goal of improving connectivity to public transportation. Harris County voters recently approved a bond referendum from METRO, which plans to borrow $3.5 billion to improve public transit during the next 20 years.
“It’s a mobility project absolutely, but it presents several other benefits to the people who live here,” Weesner said.
Some readers who commented on The Leader’s Facebook post about the project questioned its necessity and the reasoning behind it, saying a reduction of the vehicle lanes would result in more traffic congestion on Shepherd and Durham as well as other major thoroughfares in the Heights. But Weesner said studies by two engineering firms showed that a road diet would reduce congestion and make the streets safer, partly because of the addition of designated turning lanes.
Weesner said the first of multiple public information and comment sessions was held in May 2018, and TIRZ 5 will continue to seek community input as the project progresses.
According to the grant application, the project received letters of support from several local, state and national politicians who represent the area as well as prominent Heights developers such as Radom Capital and Revive and neighborhood groups such as the Houston Heights Association and the civic clubs for Cottage Grove, Shady Acres and Shepherd Forest.
“These improvements, and their benefits, are extremely important to the residents of the Houston Heights, the City of Houston and the entire Houston-Galveston region,” the Houston Heights Association wrote in its letter of support.
Weesner said the project’s first and second phases, the latter of which would reconstruct Shepherd and Durham from south of 15th Street to Interstate 10, are estimated to cost $50 million apiece. She said she did not know the estimated cost of the third phase, covering the area between I-10 and Memorial Drive, which would be executed by the city.
For more information, visit memorialheightstirz5.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/190702BUILDNarative-July-2019.pdf.